Baked tortellini with sausage, fennel and mushrooms
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, core removed, sliced lengthwise, fronds finely chopped
1 lb Italian sausages, casing removed, sausage crumbled
1 ½ cup chicken broth, preferably homemade, completely defatted
1x 8oz. package of cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 lb baby spinach washed, blanched, drained well of excess water
1tbsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorn
4 garlic cloves halved, germ removed and minced
For the cheese béchamel sauce:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk
¾ cup cream, 35%
1 cup gruyere cheese, grated
2 egg yolks (lightly beaten in bowl)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb fresh tortellini (meat or cheese filled)
½ cup freshly grated parmigiano -Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Small pinch of piment d’Espelete, optional
Estate-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large skillet heat 3 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the sausage and sauté for 2-3 minutes, breaking up sausage with a fork. Add the fennel, season with salt and pepper and sauté until sausage is brown and fennel is almost tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, pound together fennel seeds and black pepper. Add the garlic and salt and continue mixing until a smooth paste forms, then stir in 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the fennel paste to the sausage mixture along with the broth and cook uncovered 5 to 10 minutes more. Stir in the mushrooms and sauté 2-3 minutes, until mushrooms are lightly browned.
Stir in spinach and heat through 1-2 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
To prepare the béchamel; Combine the milk and cream into a measuring cup. Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams add the flour and stir well with a whisk until flour is lump-free and incorporated in the butter. In a thin stream add milk/cream mixture a little at a time, making sure the previous addition has been well absorbed before pouring more milk, cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Whisk in the egg yolks and season with salt and pepper. Transfer béchamel to a large bowl, add the sausage mixture to a bowl and stir to combine. In the meantime, cook tortellini in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
Drain tortellini add to the bowl with the sausage mixture, toss until well combined. Lightly oil a 14-inch tiella or a stoneware baking dish. Transfer tortellini mixture to tiella. Top with parmigiano and season with chilli pepper if using. Bake covered for 20-25 minutes or until heated through and cheese has melted. Remove cover and broil for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with reserved fennel fronds and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
YIELD: Serves 8