Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weekend Cooking... Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Fennel

We all want to eat a little healthier if we can, don't we?
And while I am not willing to give up my pasta, I have considered that a switch to whole wheat pasta might be an improvement. But as my friends at America's Test Kitchen point out, whole wheat pasta has a firmer texture and a more forceful flavor that the regular variety and not every sauce may work as well with it. So, I decided to give one of ATK recipes with the whole wheat variety a try.
First, I took advantage of a recent taste test of various brands that they published and bought the brand that was the winner, Bionaturae Organic 100 Percent Whole-Wheat Spaghetti. I did not even bother looking for it at my supermarket but instead bought some online at Amazon.

And I must say, I was very happy with the results.
This is a VERY flavorful, VERY fragrant dish..
Now, I did make one changed and double the sausage, because the pack I bought had about a pound in it and I figured I would use it all and I would use that much again. Otherwise I stuck to the recipe. The pasta is excellent. I must see what other shapes they sell because where as I have never been a big whole wheat pasta fan, I really like this one and I think this recipe would be excellent with other short shapes. Maybe some orecchiette...
I will warn you this dish is a little spicy. That red pepper really blooms in the oil, so if you like things a little milder you may want to cut that back a bit. And being a fan of fennel, I think I might use two bulbs, or at least a bigger one than I had. But otherwise, a delicious, rather hearty pasta dish.

"We wanted to create a whole wheat pasta sauce recipe that would provide just the right complement to the hearty flavor and firm texture of whole-wheat spaghetti. We found that a boldly flavored sauce made with sausage and chunks of sautéed fennel provides a nice counterpoint to the whole-wheat pasta’s hearty texture. Starch from some added pasta liquid thickens the sauce and helps it cling to the spaghetti. A sprinkling of freshly grated Pecorino Romano, which our tasters preferred to the more subtle Parmesan, adds a salty tang to a simply sauced whole-wheat spaghetti recipe."

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced and pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Table salt
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage , removed from casing
1 medium fennel bulb , halved, cored, and sliced thin
1/2 cup pine nuts , toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
1 ounce grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1/2 cup)


1. Combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
2. Heat sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook, stirring to break sausage into ½-inch pieces, until browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to paper towel-lined plate, leaving rendered fat in skillet. (
my sausage was so lean I has virtually no oil, so I added a bit of the one I had soaking with the red pepper) Return skillet to medium-high heat, add fennel and ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until fennel is tender, about 5 minutes.
3. Push fennel to sides of skillet to create 3-inch clearing; add oil-garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, (
Ok, this smells so good) about 1 minute. Stir to combine garlic mixture with fennel and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove skillet from heat and stir in sausage, pine nuts, basil, and lemon juice.(Wow, now it smells even better!)
4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water; cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup pasta cooking water, drain pasta, and return pasta to Dutch oven.
5. Add sauce and reserved cooking water to pasta and toss to coat. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkle with cheese, and serve.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


  1. This looks great (except for the sausage part!) but I would love to try a non-meat version of this (I'm very purist about pasta and pizza and don't like meat messing around in it.) Fennel is really interesting. I tried to grow some in my yard, but alas, the only thing I really grow well in my yard is rocks.

  2. I have tried to get my family to eat whole wheat pasta with little to no success -- they complain that it's too heavy, etc. This brand, though, is one that I haven't tried, so thanks for the recommendation. I'm going to see if I can find it around here.

  3. Fennel and pasta sound like a tasty combination :) It never hurts to experiment with pasta dishes :D

  4. Sausage, fennel, and pine nuts? Need you say more? OMG yum. We use whole wheat pasta exclusively. I've used the brand you show here and another that we buy through a wholesale distributor (too lazy to go look up the brand). I wouldn't hesitate to use any sauce with my whole wheat pasta. I do know that we like it best al dente -- even a little overcooked changes the flavor.

    That said, when I make my own pasta, I always make white. I have no idea why.

  5. I agree that as with most recipes you could easily tweak this to your you non-meat eaters.
    or in my case, doubling the meat. :-)

  6. *sigh* I wish I could get TBG to like whole wheat pasta but it's a no-go situation. Looks delish, Caite.

  7. This does sound good! I could adapt this and make it with fake sausage because I am still looking for recipes with fennel. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. I'd have doubled, too. I'll look for that brand, I agree with ATK that it depends on the sauce. Your dish looks fantastic.

  9. I tried using whole wheat pasta without telling Carl and he noticed right away. I liked it fine, but he didn't. I'll have to try that brand.

  10. The fennel looks interesting. I may have to try this one.

  11. Very good! except I just can't get use to whole wheat pasta :( will have to stick to the unhealthier version I guess. Sausage and fennel together is very good!

  12. I've not had much success with fennel in my recipes, thanks I'll give it a try, looks good.

  13. You're right about ww pasta - it needs a hearty sauce,but we have come to be quite fond of it in many dishes. This one really looks like a winner for our family--every ingredient is on the favorites list - sausage, fennel, pine nuts, basil, garlic, EVOO, etc etc etc. I might even be prevailed upon to drop a few flakes of red pepper in there.

    Of course my hubster would insist we chop up some tomatoes and throw in also, but I don't think that would be a bad thing.

  14. Good for you for trying a healthier pasta. Like Kathy, I tried some on my husband but he nixed the idea on his plate. Doesn't like brown rice either. Looks good and works for me.

  15. Tina, go for some flakes...and some chopped tomatoes would certainly be nice too!!

  16. I'm so glad this was a hit. I am always looking for dishes that use whole wheat pasta. I will definitely try the brand you recommended!

  17. I've always struggled with the right type of sauce with whole wheat pasta as well. The flavor of the pasta is much more noticeable and you do have to have the right sauce to balance it out. Looks like this was definitely a hit!

  18. I have tried the whole wheat pasta and not enjoyed it. Perhaps I need to try it in a new dish instead of trying to make it fit into a dish that I alread expect to taste a certain way. This looks good. Thanks.

  19. This looks and sounds amazing! I use whole wheat pasta often, yummy stuff with a heavy sauce. Too powerful on it's own though I find.


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