I’ve been in a kind of savory-food block recently. I’ve been so busy at work that it’s been hard to have time cook, and then I’ve been so out of sorts that all I’ve wanted to do is bake. But a girl cannot live on baked goods alone. Well, I mean, she can, but it’s not a good idea. Today though, I was actually craving pasta. And not just pasta in general, but this pasta.
I had pulled this recipe from Bon Appétit last year, and made it soon after. It was simple and tasty but nothing to write home about. Why? Well, the first time round, I left out the pancetta. Right. I….must have been having a stroke at the time? I really have no explanation. I NEVER leave out pork product! Silly me. Anyways, I was craving pasta, but nothing too heavy—spring is supposedly around the corner, after all—and I had been thinking about fennel recently. I figured this one would do me. And, oh, it did.
This pasta is super simple, so you best be a fan of fennel. Brown diced pancetta until crispy and remove to a plate. Sauté some red jalapeño and garlic in the left-over pancetta grease, then add the thinly sliced fennel bulbs and braise in chicken broth, and lemon juice, with some crushed fennel seeds for pop. When the fennel is tender to your liking, toss the broth and fennel and reserved pancetta with the spaghetti and some salty, grated cheese. What you get is something bright and light and warming; hearty without being overpowering.
The end product is so much more complex than you would expect it to be. The fennel becomes softer and sweet, yet retains its licorice flavor. The pepper offsets the sweet fennel nicely and the acid from the the lemon juice brightens the whole dish. The clincher is the pancetta, with its rich, salty, pigginess, that pulls it all together. This is a perfect dish to cure a food-block; simple and delicious and quick, quick, quick. I’m excited for the leftovers. You should make your own, because I’m not gonna share.
Spicy Fennel Pasta
Adapted from Bon Appétit. Serves 4ish.
I think some white wine in the braising liquid would be on point; I just didn’t have any hanging around.
2 oz pancetta, chopped
1 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
2 medium fennel bulbs, cut into thin wedges
2 c low-sodium chicken broth
4 T finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 T lemon juice
1 1/2 t crushed fennel seeds (I used a mortar and pestle; crush them however you like)
1/2 lb spaghetti
1/4 c grated Pecorino Romano or other salty, hard cheese
- In a large skillet over medium heat, brown pancetta until golden. Remove to paper towels
- Add 1 T olive oil to the pancetta grease; add garlic and chiles and cook 1 minute
- Add the fennel and cook ~5 min, or until beginning to soften
- Add broth, lemon juice, 2 T parsley and fennel seeds
- Bring the broth to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for ~20 min or until the fennel is tender
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente; drain and reserve cooking liquid
- When the fennel is tender, remove the lid and boil vigorously until most of the liquid is gone
- Add the drained pasta to the fennel and toss over low heat; if it seems dry, add some of the pasta water
- Stir in remaining parsley, cheese and pancetta
- Toss and eat!