Most ragùs ask you to chop many things and simmer for hours—this one expects neither. Yet it still delivers a richly flavored sauce for pasta, polenta, pizza, and much more, all because of a very unconventional trick.
As Lyndsay writes, “A lot of parents shy away from strongly flavoured vegetables like fennel and aren’t too sure what to do with them but there is nearly always a way to cook your vegetables so that kids will love them. For fennel—I find it’s cutting it down and slow roasting it with its best pal, bacon, to make this hearty fennel and bacon ragu that takes around 30 minutes and fills your house with the most glorious smell.”
This sauce makes a generous amount, and you can use it on much more than pasta. Lyndsay writes, "I often add beans of any type and serve as a stew with crusty bread, or on toast with fried halloumi and basil oil for brunch. It’s also fantastic shakshouka-style with baked eggs, feta, and a herb salad. We also have it with sweet potato wedges (with some added chilli) or with set polenta which has crisped up in the oven." I've found that leftovers are also great for layering into grilled cheese, topping pizza, or braising vegetables or proteins that will benefit from the extra flavor, like chicken and shrimp. Try making it extra-spicy like a diavolo sauce and spooning crème fraîche on top.
A few tips: If you don’t have a full-size food processor, you can hand-chop, or use a mini chopper—you’ll just need to do several batches. If you can’t find tomato passata (it’s also sold as “strained tomatoes”), puree any type of canned tomatoes in the food processor first, then remove and process the rest of the ingredients. If you can’t find fennel, try other not-too-hard vegetables that will break down in a food processor and soften in a pan—think celery, onions, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, even radishes or turnips. If you don't have or want to use bacon, Lyndsay writes, "I have subbed in sausage frequently for the bacon and used both chicken and beef mince [ground chicken or beef]. I’ve also made it without meat and it’s still great—just needs a bit more seasoning. Smoked salt is a great addition if you go down the veggie route." If you don’t have the spices or rosemary, feel free to leave them out.
Recipe adapted slightly from Babyccino (April 2019). —Genius Recipes
- Prep time 5 minutes
- Cook time 40 minutes
- Makes about 1 1/2 quarts of sauce
large or 3 small fennel bulbs, roughly chopped
strips smoked bacon, roughly chopped
garlic cloves, roughly chopped
sprig of rosemary, picked
extra-virgin olive oil
(1 quart/32 ounces) tomato passata (see Author Notes)
Sea salt, to taste
Cooked pasta, to serve (or see Author Notes for more serving suggestions)
- Heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Place the fennel, bacon, garlic, rosemary, chile flakes, and fennel seeds into a food processor and blitz down until finely chopped. (If your food processor bowl is getting full, do this in two batches.)
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to an ovenproof dish and place over medium heat. Add the fennel mix to the hot saucepan and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until starting to soften. Add the tomato passata and stir. Bring to the boil and then cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the sauce looks (and tastes) well-melded. Remove, taste and adjust seasoning, and serve immediately tossed through pasta. Store any leftovers airtight in the refrigerator. (See the Author Notes above for other ideas for using the sauce up).