1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced – reserve the fennel fronds
Pinch red pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 link mild or hot (according to your preference) Italian sausage
1 cup vegetable, seafood, clam or chicken stock
4 teaspoons butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 lemon thinly sliced and seeds removed
4 fresh Roma tomatoes chopped into 1/2 –inch pieces
Small bunch parsley
Salt and pepper
Loaf of crusty bread
Place the clams in a large bowl filled with water and ice cubes for about 1 hour. This will allow the clams to expel any dirt and grit from their shells.
In a medium heavy-bottomed stew pot over medium heat, drizzle a tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil and allow to warm. Add the diced yellow onion and sliced fennel. Also add a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, the pinch of red pepper and the fennel seeds.
Cover the pot and allow the onion and fennel to “sweat” as they release their water and soften (the salt is very important to this process).
When the vegetables lose their crunch, remove the sausage from its casing with a knife and with your fingers, break the sausage into very small pieces and add to the fennel onion mix.
Sauté the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it’s lost most of its pink color.
Add the stock, wine and butter and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the sliced lemon and tomatoes and reduce heat to low.
Finely chop the reserved fennel fronds and parsley and add to the stew.
Allow the stew to simmer for about 30 minutes until the lemon rinds have lost their bitterness and are edible.
Add salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the clams will provide a little extra salt.
Drain the clams from the bowl and add to the pot. Cook over medium heat until most of the clams open (about 5 minutes). Discard any closed clams.
Ladle the mixture plus a good amount of broth into bowls and serve with sliced crusty bread. Provide a bowl for the discarded clamshells.