Friday, February 05, 2010


So it’s official: We like fennel! Fresh on the heels of our delicious fennel pizza comes this delectable pasta from Bon Appetit, which I first spotted at The Kitchen Illiterate while searching for something else—what, I can’t remember, because it completely slipped my mind as soon as the words “fennel,” “pasta,” “bacon,” “red pepper flakes,” and “cheese” registered. (It turns out that the original recipe relies on red jalapenos for its spiciness, but I followed The Kitchen Illiterate's lead in using red pepper flakes, because I so dearly love them in pastas. I don’t set too much store in the original recipe anyway, because it’s inexplicably called “Spicy Spaghetti With Fennel and Herbs,” even though parsley is the only herb in evidence. I also copied The Kitchen Illiterate in using bacon instead of pancetta, and was quite pleased by that decision.)

While I was cooking, A kept asking me what this was going to taste like and whether he would like it. My best guess at what it would taste like was “Italian sausage without the meat,” and that was a pretty darn fine prediction. There’s garlic, spice, savoriness from the cheese and broth, saltiness from the bacon, and a double hit of fennel flavor from both the bulb and the seed, with a zip of freshness from the lemon and parsley. We both loved it. My only caveat is that I wish I’d sliced the fennel more thinly; I followed the recipe’s instructions to cut it into “thin wedges,” but maybe I misunderstood what that meant, because it took forever (longer than 20 minutes, anyway) to get tender, and even though it tasted good, it never achieved the melting softness and sweetness of the caramelized fennel from my first fennel experience. (Great band name: The Fennel Experience.) So I’m saying to slice it thinly instead, but of course you can do what you like. I’m not the boss of you. But if I were, I’d tell you to get yourself on the fennel bandwagon already and make this recipe immediately, and then share some of it with me (well, I guess I still have some leftovers at home, but I’m currently stuck at work, with four rainy train rides separating me from that pasta).

3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large fennel bulbs, stalks trimmed, sliced thinly
1½ cups low-salt chicken broth
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1½ teaspoons crushed fennel seeds
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish

1. Sauté pancetta or bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta/bacon to paper towels.

2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to drippings in skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; sauté over medium heat 1 minute. Add fennel; cook until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Mix in broth, 2 tablespoons parsley, lemon juice, and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until fennel is very tender, 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid, then drain.

4. Just before pasta is done, uncover skillet with fennel mixture and return to medium-high heat. Cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add pasta, 2 tablespoons oil, ½ cup cheese, and pancetta/bacon to skillet. Toss well, adding cooking liquid by ¼ cupfuls if dry. Transfer to serving bowls. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons parsley and additional cheese to taste.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Very good.


Bridget said...

I've only tried fennel once, and I guess my opinion can be summed up as "it was fine." But that was years ago, and I haven't tried it again. You're making me want to and this pasta looks great, but I doubt the crappy grocery store in the small town just moved to will sell fennel. I guess I should have taken advantage of fennel while I had the chance!

J said...

Aw, that makes me sad! I hope that if you manage to find some, you enjoy it (the pasta is a good way to do that). But if not, I promise to enjoy plenty of fennel on your behalf.

laura k said...

I'm glad you liked it! I still dream about how delicious this was, which is probably a good sign I should try it again.