Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Roasted Fennel Pasta Sauce

Yesterday I was sitting at work and got this huge craving for spaghetti with meat sauce. Now if you know me, I'm a bit inclined to change my mind depending on what pops into my head in the next five minutes. So I started thinking about what we had in the fridge and realized that we had 1/2 of a fennel bulb that needed to be eaten.

I've been on a fennel kick lately, making shaved fennel and arugula salads with orange dressing, fennel chicken soup, the list goes on. I Googled fennel spaghetti sauce and ended up at a "Serious Eats" post on   Roasted Fennel Tomato Sauce.  The recipe was from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. It looked fast and FANTASTIC but as a major meat eater, I called  my sweetie and had him take Italian sausages out of the freezer.

The recipe starts by slicing fennel and onion and 8 yes 8 cloves of garlic. You don't have to slice thin, you don't have to be careful about slicing, it doesn't have to be even, just fast thick slices of veggies. I popped this all in a bowl with the hot pepper flakes, the salt and pepper and 1.5 tbsp of fennel seeds as the 2 tbsp they called for seemed like too many. This got mixed with 1/3 cup olive oil and put on a rimmed cookie sheet. It went under the broiler (note, the Splendid Table recipe recommends roasting, I broiled). You have to watch pretty carefully and stir every 5 minutes or so but once you get some browning, add the diced tomatoes.

I dont' know why the splendid table recipe wanted you to crush your whole tomatoes by hand, but I find that messy and annoying, besides, diced tomatoes were what I had. I also doubled the amount of tomatoes they called for as I was in the mood for a tomatoey dish. I popped them in and roasted for another 10-15 minutes until they looked a bit blackened. The kitchen was starting to smell wonderful. 

In the meantime, I was boiling fusilli and browning sausages. I always brown them, then add liquid and cover to cook them through. Usually I add water (or beer if it's brats) but I had the drained tomato juice from my diced tomatoes. I thinned it with about 1/4 cup of water (about 1/2-3/4 cup liquid total) and added that to the pan. Covered, they took about 10 minutes to cook almost through. When the pasta finished cooking, I drained it, quickly moving the pot back under the colander to save about 1/2 cup of pasta water. 

The veggies were pretty much done at this time so I sliced up the Italians, popping them into the pot to let them finish cooking with the steam from the noodles. I added the roasted veggies and poured on the leftover tomato sauce from cooking the sausages. I checked for consistency and only added about 2 tbsp of the pasta water. Here is where they say to dump in the cheese but I just topped off each bowl with some. Served with some warm bread that my sweetie made it was spicy, hot and perfect for a February night. Enjoy!

This is a BIG recipe, would probably serve 6-8 people and would be a great crowd pleaser as it's spicy and cheesy and has that beautiful mild licorice taste from the roasted fennel.

Ingredients (adapted from Serious Eats)

  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and sliced (I used 1.5 as I had a big one)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced
  • 8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds (I went with 1.5)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained juice reserved
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1 pound fusilli 
  • 1 pound Italian sausage


  1. Set the oven on broil. Combine the fennel, onion, garlic, oil, chili flakes, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper in a roasting dish and roast, tossing once or twice during cooking, for 15 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, bring a pot of salty water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve some pasta cooking water. Brown Italian sausages and add the drained tomato juice and 1/2 cup water. Cover and let cook until cooked through.
  3. After 15 minutes of roasting, stir in the crushed tomatoes, combining well. Roast 5 to 10 minutes more, until the fennel is tender and starting to brown.
  4. Drain the pasta and toss with the roasted vegetables. Slice Italian sausages into rounds and add to dish. Add tomato sauce that the Italian sausages have cooked in. If you need to, add some pasta cooking water if necessary until the sauce is loosened and coats the pasta. Serve immediately with Parmesan on the side.

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