I grew up in Vienna, Virginia (the other Vienna), and tucked into one of the suburban strip malls that stretched out along Maple Avenue was a family pizzeria called, aptly enough, Vienna Pizza. It was one of those red-checked tablecloth places, with pine paneling and a plastic vase of carnations on each table, and I loved those floppy slices smothered in sweet red sauce and fat crumbles of homemade sausage.
And maybe it was just nostalgia, but for years and years nothing quite lived up to that pizza. I’d flirted with deep-dish (the influence of my Chicagoland-bred husband) and fallen hard for blistery Napoletanas, but my thoughts would inevitably drift back to the sausage-and-extra-cheese of Vienna Pizza. What was it, exactly? Why was their sausage so memorable, so much tastier than others after? Fennel seed, it turns out. Fennel! Now, I can’t confirm this, since failed Internet searches for the now-shuttered pizza parlor and interrogations of childhood friends can’t really back me up. But I have my taste buds, and I have my memory, and this recipe tastes like Vienna Pizza.
I froze half the batch to use later in my orecchiette, showed off its zesty charms at a just-like-the-old-days Friday pizza night (pictured above, with storebought pizza dough and this awesome recipe from the Sunset Cookbook) and saved the leftovers for a Saturday morning omelet with crumbles of goat cheese.
adapted from Platter of Figs, by David Tanis, 2008; makes two pounds
- 2 pounds ground pork shoulder (not overly lean)
- 2 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes, crushed (or more to taste)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- few grindings of black pepper
In a large bowl, gently mix all the ingredients together. Let rest in the fridge for 1/2 hour and up to two days, or wrap well and freeze for two months. Brown until cooked through and use in any recipe that calls for ground, Italian-style sausage.
Note: if the ground pork at your butcher shop looks lean, substitute a portion of ground pork fat or ground pork belly, up to a quarter pound. If (like me) you’ve had the same container of fennel seeds in your pantry for 10 years, consider buying a fresh bottle. It’ll go a long way.