In a heavy-bottomed pan, cook the sausage over high heat until it begins to brown in its own fat. Add half of the fennel seeds and chile flakes. Remove the sausage from the pan when cooked through and add the onions, fennel, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook the vegetables until they're well browned and return the sausage to the pan. Add the tomato sauce and remaining fennel seeds and chile flakes. Simmer 1/2 hour, until vegetables and sausage are very tender. Season well with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Gently slip as many gnocchi at a time as will float freely into a pot of boiling water, stirring gently with a wooden spoon as you do. Cook until the gnocchi rise to the surface, about 7 minutes. (Test 1 for doneness by cutting into the center; the gnocchi should be the same color and consistency all the way through.) Scoop them out with a wire skimmer as soon as they are cooked. Drain and add to the pan with the hot ragu, tossing gently 1 minute to coat. Top with Pecorino Romano and serve immediately.
Place the ricotta in a fine sieve over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight. In a medium-sized bowl, stir the drained ricotta, 1 cup of the flour, the eggs, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg together gently but thoroughly until a soft dough forms, adding a little more of the flour if the dough is sticky when poked. Forming the gnocchi: dip 2 tablespoons in cool water. Using 1 spoon, scoop up a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture and use the other spoon to form it into a smooth, pointed oval. (Alternatively, you can roll the mixture into balls with well-floured hands, using about 2 tablespoons ricotta mixture for each ball.) Place the gnocchi on a baking sheet lined with a lightly-floured kitchen towel.
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Recipe copyright 2000, Mario Batali. All Rights Reserved.