We’ve had some great fennel dishes with the fennel in the CSA Shares lately, roasted with sausage, fresh in farro salad, fennel fronds as garnish. This easy braised pasta is rich and comforting, but not too heavy. It’s also really easy to make a vegetarian version, just scroll down to see the details. I like the complexity of the chilies, but if you don’t like spicy just omit the crushed red pepper. Save some fennel fronds for the garnish, it adds a nice color. Thinly slice the fennel, then start by cutting the bacon crosswise into lardons, and crisp them in a large sauté pan that can later be transferred to the oven.
Remove bacon and all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. Add the fennel to the pan and cook over medium heat until the fennel starts to turn golden around the edges. Add the water or stock, garlic, and crushed red pepper to the pan. Stir to scrape up any bits from the bottom. Simmer about 10 minutes until liquid is reduced and fennel is softened. While the fennel is cooking, cook pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package directions. When the fennel is cooked, turn off the burner, add reserved bacon to the pan, taste, and adjust salt and pepper. Top with 1/2 cup parmesan. Heat the broiler to high, and broil fennel mixture 1-2 minutes until golden.
Remove the fennel from the oven, and toss the pasta with the fennel mixture in the pan. Top with 2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds, fresh ground black pepper, and extra grated parmesan.
Braised Fennel Pasta
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 strips of bacon, cut crosswise into lardons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp – 1 tsp crushed red pepper (depending on level of spice)
2 cups water or cooking stock
1/2 cup grated parmesan
12 oz spaghetti or fettucine
2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
salt + pepper
Crisp the bacon over medium heat, transfer bacon to a plate and remove all but one tablespoon bacon fat from the pan. Add the fennel to the pan and cook over medium heat until the edges of the fennel start to turn golden. Add stock or water, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Simmer fennel 10 minutes until tender.
Cook pasta, in salted water according to package directions while fennel is simmering. Drain.
Preheat broiler. When fennel is cooked, return bacon to the pan, taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Top with parmesan and broil 1-2 minutes until cheese is browned. Toss pasta with fennel mixture in the pan. Top with 2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds. Serve with grated parmesan and fresh black pepper.
Vegetarian Variation. Omit bacon. Cook fennel in 2 tablespoons butter. Add vegetable stock to simmer fennel. Follow remaining directions for the pasta without the bacon.