When I drag my tired bones home at the end of an exhausting day, this is one of the simplest and most satisfying dinners I can think of.
Apart from fresh fennel, most of the ingredients can be found in a moderately well-stocked pantry. (If you can’t find fennel in the store, you can replace it with two leeks or a 10-oz bag of spinach.) And unless you want to get fancy by baking this in a casserole dish, you can prepare and serve the entire meal in a large pot or skillet, thus cutting down on washing-up.
Best of all, the combination of pillowy-soft potato dumplings, sweet onions and fennel, tangy tomato sauce, fatty pork sausage and bubbling cheese will hit all your comfort buttons and bring even the most stressful day to a satisfactory end.
Italian sausage, fennel and gnocchi casserole
- 1 tbsp tbsp olive oil
- 1 white onion coarsely chopped
- 2 fennel bulbs remove stems but chop green fronds and set aside; cut off base, halve and cut out hard core at the base
- 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 lb Italian sausage (loose)
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning mix
- generous pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 cup tomato sauce I usually keep a few jars high-quality pizza sauce without added sugar in my pantry
- 1 cup chicken bone broth
- 1/2 tsp salt
- several grinds black pepper
- 1 lb potato gnocchi some brands make gluten-free gnocchi, e.g. DeLallo
- 8 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese coarsely grated
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Once it shimmers, add chopped onion, fennel and garlic, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and saute for 6-7 minutes, stirring, until the onions turn translucent and the fennel edges are golden-brown.
- Tear the sausage into large chunks and add to the skillet, breaking it into smaller pieces with a wooden cooking spoon.
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Once the meat is browned all around, add herbs, pepper flakes, tomato sauce, chicken broth and gnocchi. Bring to a bubble and cook for 5 minutes. (Up to this point you can prepare the filling several hours or days ahead.)
- Spoon mixture into a casserole dish (or several individual oven-proof dishes), and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Alternatively, scatter cheese over the skillet contents. Slide into oven.
- Turn off oven and turn on broiler; broil on high for 2-3 minutes, checking closely to avoid burning. The casserole is ready when the cheese is bubbling and golden-brown.
- Scatter chopped fennel fronds over the hot casserole. Serve immediately, accompanied by a mixed salad in a very light olive oil dressing.