This pasta sauce uses fennel three ways -- the seeds, the bulb, and the fronds at the end for a garnish. Fennel and pork are a winning combination, so I decided to bring the fennel flavor to the traditional Amatriciana sauce. The sweetness of the fennel and caramelized onions go great with the pancetta and the tomatoes. This is a good week-night meal because it comes together quickly with things you might already have around (I always keep pancetta in the freezer). I've made this without the pancetta many times for vegetarian friends and it is also really delicious. —JORJ
fettucini (or other strand pasta, like spaghetti, linguini, or bucatini)
28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
fennel bulb, with fronds
large onion, chopped
large garlic cloves, sliced thinly
crushed red pepper
pancetta, diced (or bacon, for a smokier sauce)
Put a large pot of salted water to boil and start making the sauce
Start the pancetta in a large sauce pan or pot over low-medium heat with a little olive oil to render the fat.
Chop the onions into a small dice. Remove the core from the fennel bulb, and peel any discolored outer layers, then dice it up too.
Once the pancetta has rendered most of its fat but isn't totally crisp, you can add the onion. Turn it around in the fat a little but then let it sit so it caramelizes a bit. Continue to alternate stirring the onion and letting it sit until all the onion is translucent and some of it is browned. Add the chopped fennel bulb at this point, stirring occasionally.
Once the fennel bulb has caramelized a bit, clear a little spot on the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste to let it caramelize in the direct heat.
Add the sliced garlic, the fennel seed, the crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper to the pot and stir around for about a minute. Add the canned tomatoes and the puree to the pot, crushing the individual tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the sauce. Add the parmesan rind now. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. This step adds depth of flavor to your sauce and also helps you later in clean-up. Turn the heat down to low and let the flavors come together as it bubbles away. Stir the sauce occasionally.
Drop the pasta at this point -- cook according to package directions. I like to set a timer for one minute less than it says on the package to finish the pasta in the sauce.
Chop up the fennel fronds and grate some parmigiano reggiano.
When it's ready, reserve one cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and let it cook for a minute or so in the sauce. Add some of the pasta cooking water if it needs to be loosened up a bit.
At the last minute, add the chopped fennel fronds to the pasta and serve, garnishing each plate with grated parmigiano reggiano. Enjoy!