Let me start by telling you that my father-in-law, who recently visited and often is not as adventurous of an eater as myself or Tim, loved this dish! In fact, he told me numerous times how good it was...so if you are thinking it sounds weird or that it might not be worth the work, you're wrong on both counts!
To start you need to find a fresh fennel bulb - jarred fennel will just not work - and that makes this integral to the meal. So, first, go to a decent grocery and get one.
Once you've secured your fennel, you'll need to start off my making the risotto as it takes the longest. Turn the heat on high for one burner and place a large pot on it; once that is hot enough to make oil sizzle, add some olive oil, about enough to coat the pan, and some smashed garlic and minced onion. Then you want to pour in a cup of arborrio rice (which is one of the grains that can be used to make risotto - it is the easiest to find in a decent store). Next place a smaller saucepan on another burner and slowly heat up 4 cups of chicken broth. Once the rice grains are coated in the oil, garlic, onion mixture, turn down the heat to medium (about a 4 or 5 on an electric stove) then you want to add a little saffron, a large pinch of this pricey spice will go a LONG way, and turn the contents a delightful bright gold color.
Next is the really crucial step when making risotto and what people most often a) mess up and b) decide is too labor intensive. You need to begin to pour SOME of the heated broth in. Now the broth should be warm, but NOT boiling which would be bad. In fact, the risotto and the broth should never be boiling. So anyway, you begin by pouring some of the broth in and continue to stir it all around. Every 5-10 minutes, as the risotto dries out and the liquid is absorbed, pour more broth in. In total you will use about 4 or 5 cups of broth and maybe 1 or 2 cups of water…all of which gets heated in the smaller pan.
Now in another wider pan, start out over a medium heat and add a little olive oil, then either diced tomatoes OR halved grape tomatoes (which is what I used) and the minced fennel. Note: with the fennel bulb, you want to cut off the top stalks removing all the green and then the entire white part is useable. Sauté this all together, let it soften then cover the pan up and keep it over super low heat for a bit.
After the risotto has been absorbing liquid and softening for about 30-35 minutes, slap the Italian sausage (your choice on spicy, regular, sweet, etc.; I used some handmade regular Italian that has just a little spice to it) on the grill. Then when you think you have at least 10 minutes left on the sausage, spoon the fennel and tomatoes into the risotto pot and stir it all in together. If there is still broth left, pour the rest of that in too.
While this has all been stewing together and blending flavors, your sausage should be just about done on the grill. Bring that in, let it sit under foil for a few minutes and then slice it up into bite size pieces.
Finally you mix the risotto mixture in with your sliced sausage, grate some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or whatever breed of Parmesan you have) and tear a few basil leaves for good measure.