Make friends with fennel fronds. Plus, a blend of gruyère, mozzarella, and Parmesan. A winning winter combo, if you ask us!


Credit: Chelsea Kyle

Recipe Summary

1 hr
40 mins
Serves 8 to 10

This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2021 issue. Get the magazine here.


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Preheat the oven to 425°. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 11 minutes. Remove from heat. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain, then return the pasta to the pot.

  • Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high; add the sausage and break into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring often, until sausage is cooked through and browned, 6 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage to a paper towel–lined plate and return the skillet to the stove.

  • Reduce heat to medium and add 4 tbsp. butter to the skillet. Once melted, stir in sliced fennel, 1 tbsp. thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the fennel is very soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove skillet from heat; stir in the brandy and 1/4 cup of water. Return skillet to the heat and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any brown bits, until the liquid evaporates, 3 to 4 minutes.

  • Sprinkle the flour over the fennel and stir until combined. Slowly pour in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and the flour taste is almost gone, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Gruyère, mozzarella, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan until melted (the sauce will be thick but will loosen up when the pasta water is added).

  • Pour the cheese sauce into the pot with the pasta. Add the reserved pasta water, sausage, and remaining 1 tsp. salt, stirring until well coated. Transfer pasta to a 9-by-13-inch (3-quart) baking dish.

  • Melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl for about 30 seconds. Stir in the panko, fennel fronds, and the remaining 1 tbsp. thyme and Parm. Season with remaining 1/2 tsp. pepper and more salt, if desired. Sprinkle over the pasta and bake until bubbling and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.