Vermicelli with Fennel Sauce. In Italy, fennel is used as a vegetable (in fact, Italians are the largest consumers of fennel in the world), and is revered for its digestive properties, as well as other health-promoting properties (in ancient Rome, it was even considered an aphrodisiac). This recipe originally appeared in my cookbook, "What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way." —MizChef
salt + 2 teaspoons
large garlic cloves, minced
thinly sliced fresh fennel
fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
frozen peas, thawed
crushed fennel seeds (see TIP)
large fresh basil leaves
chopped Italian parsley
minced fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried sage
Grated parmigiano or pecorino romano
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the vermicelli and 1 tablespoon of the salt and cook, stirring often, until it is al dente, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan. Add the scallions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until it is soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Toss in the fresh fennel and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook about 5 minutes. Add the peas, fennel seeds, basil, parsley, sage, remaining salt, pepper, and ½ cup water; stir and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced, about 6 to 8 minutes. Simmer on low until the pasta is cooked.
When the vermicelli is cooked, drain well and transfer it to a serving bowl. Pour the fennel sauce over it and mix well.
Sprinkle Grated parmigiano or pecorino romano on top.
Use the fennel leaves for garnish.
To crush the fennel seeds, use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder on a coarse setting. Or, place the seeds on a cutting board, lay the blade of a knife flat down on the seeds and press firmly with your hand. Alternatively, you can roll a rolling pin or other heavy object over them. The seeds do not have to be completely pulverized.