Risotto di Polpette di Salsicce al Finocchio: Playing with your Sausage…

white risotto with fennel sausage meatballs

I was recently introduced to an Australian with whom I had a number of interesting discussions (that is not meant as a joke). The first, an hour-long discussion of the age-old cricketing rivalry between England and his native land is of no concern here, but the second, a frank exchange of views about the quality of sausages to be found in the United States has rather more relevance to the subject matter of these here web pages. His view, that American sausages simply aren’t up to snuff compared to the quality and variety of those available in Australia – a country in which the mystery bag has achieved almost legendary status for its role in the great Aussie barbecue – is not one I share, even if there were no other examples of fine forcemeat here than the glorious boudin of Louisiana, although, in his defense, he was careful to exclude American-made Italian style sausages from this otherwise careless dismissal.

Two men arguing about the merits of their sausage could be opening line of a grubby joke, but in fact, it’s a highly meaningful topic. Pork sausage, as it’s widely-known, is the world’s greatest food. I can think of no other food stuff which provides a comparable level of variety and satisfaction. The range of flavorings to be added to the basic mixture of pork shoulder and fat is almost limitless and the unctuousness of pork seems to be the perfect canvas for sausage-makers around the world to demonstrate their flair. All of which means that unless one is sufficiently motivated, like my Antipodean chum, to make one’s own sausage from scratch, one can take one’s pick from the myriad sausages available to us these days.

white risotto with fennel sausage meatballs

However, if you’re either deliberately bloody-minded or just feel like gilding the lily, you can augment your local sausage-maker’s offerings with flavorings of your own, which is what I did. Taking inspiration, once again, from Maxine Clark’s “Flavors of Tuscany”, I embarked with six fennel-scented Italian “sweet” sausage, adding some hot pepper flakes, a finger-nail or so of sweet pimenton, a pinch each of fennel pollen and black pepper, plus a generous teaspoon of just-cracked fennel seeds to the sausage meat after extracting it from its casings. Between two moistened palms, I rolled myself some micro-meatballs so-seasoned, browned them off in olive oil and paired them with a risotto bianco, garnished generously with fennel seeds, and washed it all down with an unpretentious Chianti.

As a speedy weeknight meal, it had the twin virtues for the ambitious home-cook of being easy and delicious while making me feel like I’d embellished the store-bought ingredients rather more than I had, which together with the great potential for sausage-based school-boy puns almost justifies posting about it.

Fennel-spiked Sausage Meatball Risotto

For the meatballs:

  • 6 sweet Italian sausages
  • 1 each of teaspoon red pepper flakes, cracked fennel seeds and black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of sweet pimenton (paprika) and fennel pollen (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the risotto:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1.5 cups (approx) chicken stock
  • kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds


  1. With a shark knife, slice open casings of sausages and turn them out into a bowl.
  2. Add red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, fennel pollen and black pepper, and a splash of water, before combining together with fingers.
  3. Moisten hands with water, roll cherry (or larger) sized meatballs in your palms. Reserve on a plate.
  4. In a saucepan on medium high, sweat onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add rice. Stir well.
  5. After no more than 2 minutes, add white wine. Stir well.
  6. Allow wine to reduce by at least half before adding 1/4 of your chicken stock. Stir well. Continue to add more stock when rice dries out until rice is al dente and slightly soupy.
  7. When rice is about half done, in a saute pan, heat olive oil to medium-high, and brown meatballs well on all sides. Depending on their size they will either be fully cooked or require ten or more minutes in the oven to cook through.
  8. When both meatballs and risotto is cooked, plate together, sprinkle with extra fennel seeds and a drizzle of some of your best olive oil.

9 thoughts on “Risotto di Polpette di Salsicce al Finocchio: Playing with your Sausage…

  1. If your friend spent time in Detroit he might feel differently, as there are some really great artisan sausage makers here (as I’m sure there are where you live as well). In fact, we recently hired a local sausage/charcuterie maker, who also happens to be a friend, to cater the side dishes and appetizers at our wedding.

    Out of curiosity, what would be considered a uniquely “Australian” variety of sausage?

  2. I cannot believe it… we made twin risotto posts!!!! I have to try your fennel one Jonny, will you try my morcilla one? I bet you will!
    Sorry I’m not here much… hope the whole family is fine and healthy 😀

  3. Oh, gosh. Be still my fennel-loving heart. Those are the most adorable little polpettes I’ve ever seen… probably the most tasty, too — though I’ll rely on imagination for that one.

    1. @Pykk: at the risk of making a joke even less funny by explaining it, i was poking fun at Australians by suggesting having an interesting discussion with an Aussie is, at best, unusual.
      @Noelle: much of sausages available in Australia are remakes of what the rest of the world took there – first the English and Irish with our pork and sage/ pork and apple bangers, as well as our pink saveloys and Devons (similar to baloney) that Aussies (and Kiwis) are very fond of at the chippy, then a bunch of other varieties, including Italian, Greek, and Balkan – though, since they don’t produce much pork compared to beef (and lamb) production, commonly Australian snags (aka sausages) are either a mix of the two or 100% beef. My mate’s complaint was partially about the variety of sausages, but more the quality of the meat. If there is one thing Australia does almost better than anyone else is pasture-raised beef, hence the high quality of even their humble sausages for the grill.

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