Shortcut Fennel & Bacon Ragù From Lyndsay Bettles

May  5, 2020
15 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Makes about 1 1/2 quarts of sauce
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
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Shortcut Fennel & Bacon Ragù From Lyndsay Bettles
  • 2 large or 3 small fennel bulbs, roughly chopped
  • 8 strips smoked bacon, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, picked
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 liter (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)
  1. 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.)
  2. 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).

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Marnie O'Shea
    Marnie O'Shea
  • Jackie De Sordi
    Jackie De Sordi
  • Diane
  • melly
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

34 Reviews

melly July 9, 2020
I think I just bought 2 anise bulbs instead of fennel bulbs. Can I use them in this recipe? My market labeled them as the same thing.
Love watching your apartment kitchen videos. Look forward to them every week!
oliveannie June 10, 2020
Had good results taking the lid off the pan in the oven for the last 20 minutes for a deeper flavor. Also only used 1 bulb of fennel and added in 1/4 of a large onion instead. Finally, gave the cooked sauce a couple zaps with an immersion blender to adjust the texture a bit.
kbakich May 19, 2020
Made this with just two tweaks - sautéed 1/4 cup of tomato paste with the veg for several minutes to build some extra flavor before adding the tomatoes, and then cooked on the stovetop rather than in the oven, which was already in use. Flavor is lovely. And your videos are a Wednesday night ritual for me, keep them up for those of us who love them.
Kristen B. May 18, 2020
I made this last night with my frozen plum tomatoes from last summer and it was delicious! It was very bacon forward but that's what I liked about this sauce. I liked that it was different than my regular marinara or Sunday red sauce. I am going to serve it again with some tortellini and grilled asparagus from my garden. Thanks so much for a unique recipe! Kristen Berry
denise May 18, 2020
I tried this recipe because I thought the technique was interesting, but the end result tasted unfinished. For me, it needed a lot more seasoning. After following the recipe, in a second pan, I sautéed chopped onion, carrot, and celery, along with oregano, thyme and a lot more garlic. I added half of the original recipe to the second pan and then added 1/3 cup wine, more salt, pepper and pepper flakes and simmered it stovetop until I felt it tasted finished. This really made the difference for me. (I also thought 30 minutes in the oven wasn't enough time in the original recipe.) I ended up combining the two sauces. In the future, I will make this with my modifications.
Christine May 16, 2020
Fennel is something I love, but that my family members are unaccustomed to eating. When I saw this recipe, I thought this would be a great way to try it out given I know they love all the other ingredients in the recipe. This turned out great, and I love you can do most of your cleanup while the sauce is in the oven without having to remember to stir it! We happened to get the whole bulb with the little fronds and used that to top the dish alongside course grey sea salt. So yummy!
kaleandsalt May 14, 2020
I might be the odd one out, but I was not a fan of this recipe. I used less bacon than called for (6 strips) and still found it overwhelmingly smokey - I couldn't taste the fennel or spices at all! It is probably salvageable as a sauce over stuffed shells or other strongly flavored pasta, but was unpleasant on its own.
pkelleyelend May 13, 2020
I made this for dinner a couple of nights ago and it was a big hit. I followed the recipe directly as written and it was so rich and flavorful that it was ranked a family favorite right beside Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter.
pkelleyelend May 13, 2020
I made this for my family a couple of nights ago and it was a big hit. I followed the recipe exactly as written and it was so rich and flavorful that it has joined the ranks of family favorite right beside Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter.
Jordan May 12, 2020
For a veggie laden recipe, I found the ragu to have very well developed flavours and also found it to be quite filling. There was a good portion left even after our family of 5 had a go. Finished off the top with a good grate of parmesan. Will make again.
Kathy May 11, 2020
Made this this evening - It was tasty, but still a bit too much fennel and nit enough depth. My husband (who hates fennel) liked it, but remarked that it was too “fennel-y”. I think I had too much fennel and perhaps my bacon wasn’t smokey enough. Still a keeper and is a great base; plenty to freeze and experiment with next time. I have smoked Maldonado salt and will add a bit of that. Thanks for this tasty, quick recipe!
Mark R. May 10, 2020
It's a rainy, dreary Sunday here in Cleveland during the Corona Captivity. I watched the video earlier in the week so I was able to add extra fennel to my Instacart delivery order. I made this ragu exactly as written and we just had it for dinner with penne. It's wonderful! My husband's a big fan of simple marinara or Bolognese, but he really scarfed up dinner and had seconds. It clings to pasta beautifully and is so satisfying without being heavy. Thanks, this is a keeper!
Ginny S. May 10, 2020
I just made the sauce for dinner this evening. It's very flavorful and I too, love the simplicity of it. Because it's so simple to make, I'll be making it often. Does it match the depth of flavor in a traditional ragu sauce? Not quite, but it gets 5 stars anyway for its simplicity... and flavor.

PS: I very much enjoy the videos with Kristen, especially at home. You have a great spirit.
Magda K. May 10, 2020
Great adaptable recipe! I only had one bulb of fennel so I used some celery to fill it out, and "cheated" on the tomato sauce by pureeing 2 cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. And since my vintage-1953 oven no longer gets up to 400 degrees...I just slow-simmered on the stovetop. Added sauteed Italian sausage and some leftover pork chop, diced. Delicious results, served with rotini pasta for a Zoom Italian dinner night with friends across the country.
Marnie O. May 10, 2020
I loved the video and made the pasta sauce according to the recipe. Really easy and delicious! Will make again. Thank you!
Jackie D. May 9, 2020
I'm gonna follow the recipe for the ingredients but cook it classic style, on the burner, my way, quick style. I'm positve it'll be just as good.
Cynthia May 8, 2020
This is a game changer. Love the simplicity. I have made twice first just as the recipe states. Tonight I added hamburger and Italian sweet sausage I brown the meat first. Then continued with the recipe as normal. Delicious!!! Extra sauce into freezer for later date. Thanks for a great recipe.
Barbara K. May 8, 2020
Didn't have fennel or bacon, so subbed in yellow onion, carrot, a yellow summer squash and a bit of ground pork. Added smoked paprika so would not miss the bacon. Very successful, made a light sauce with a lovely color and flavor. I've long added veggies blitzed in the food processor to my tomato sauce, and have liked the way eggplant and summer squash provide lightness. Happy to try the oven roast while the pasta water boils, great hack. Thank you!
Diane May 8, 2020
I could not find fennel bulbs in 2 grocery stores so I used fresh carrots and celery instead. I also added Italian seasoning and a few bay leaves while the ragu was simmering on the stove before the oven. I served it over black bean spaghetti and added a side green salad. It was so yummy. Thank you Kristen. Your home videos are awesome too!
Diane May 8, 2020
I couldn't find fennel bulbs after searching in 2 stores, so I substituted fresh carrots and celery. While on the stove, I added some Italian Seasoning and a few bay leaves to the sauce. The ragu was so yummy over thick noodles! Thanks Kristen. I love you at home videos!