How much fennel can be packed into one pasta dish? A lot, apparently! I used the fennel bulb, fennel fronds, and fennel seeds. The resulting dish is simple to make, but quite flavorful and springy. —Cristina Sciarra
fennel bulb (with fronds)
1 1/2 cups
finely grated pecorino
red pepper flakes, depending on your spice preference
Cut the fronds away from the fennel bulb, reserving both. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of the fennel bulb, and then rinse the fennel fronds. Now cut the bulb in half, lengthwise, and slice both halves as thinly as possible. (I used a mandoline.)
Warm the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the fennel bulb slices, and sauté until wilty and transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine, and cook just long enough for the wine to dissolve. Season with a touch of salt.
Meanwhile, while the fennel is cooking, remove the sausages from their casings. When the fennel is finished sautéing, remove it to a medium bowl. Add the sausage to the pan and break it up with the back of your mixing spoon. Cook the sausage until it's no longer pink, 5 minutes or so. Then remove the sausage to the fennel bowl. (You can turn off the heat at this point, but don't bother washing this pan just yet--you'll use it again in step 6.)
Meanwhile: set a pot of generously salted water on the range, over high heat. When it starts to boil, add the pasta. Cook until al dente, and then drain the pasta. (But save 1/4 cups of pasta cooking water!)
In a mortar and pestle, crush up the fennel seeds, and mix them with the breadcrumbs. (If you don't have a morar and pestle, you can -- carefully -- use a knife to chop up the fennel seeds instead.) To bring out the flavor even more, toast the fennel seeds and breadcrumbs in a pan over medium heat for about 1 minute.
Melt the butter in the fennel/sausage pan over low heat. Add the drained pasta, and 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water, and stir together. Chop up the reserved fennel fronds, and add that to the pan, along with the sautéed fennel, the sausage, the breadcrumbs, the pecorino, the red pepper flakes, and the lemon zest. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of pasta water, and stir to bring everything together. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.
Spoon the pasta into bowls. Finish with a good crack of freshly grated black pepper.
Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at theroamingkitchen.com.