I am one of those odd sorts who adore fennel. Raw in salads. Roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil, pepper, and parmesan cheese. In anything. On anything. It can be a strong flavor that some people find too strong, too much licorice. Not for me. Love it!
Last week I was gifted with 9 bulbs of fennel. Some or them were on the smallish side and a few were large. I contemplated pickles, but finally decided to make a recipe that I discovered a year or two ago for a pasta sauce made with salami and fennel. It was found doing an internet search for fennel ideas just to try to come up with something new. I’m not sure I really followed the recipe as written even the first time I made it given that it only calls for one bulb of fennel for what felt to me like a lot of salami, but perhaps it’s for someone who likes fennel but doesn’t love it. My variation is more fennel forward.
In a large-ish dutch oven, I sauté the following until the salami gets a bit crispy:
- Olive oil (just to get things going.)
- 4 oz of salami, sliced (the original recipe is 5 oz. The package from my store is 8 oz. and using half just makes the math easier on my end plus there’s always plenty for something else later).
- Chili pepper flakes (I do to taste. Original recipe calls for a full chili pepper, but I just do flakes to an amount I think I can handle)
- Crushed fennel seed (original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon. I’m guessing I use more since I just do that by eye as well and it’s just more fennel love)
- 2-3 garlic cloves (I crush mine, but the recipe says sliced. For me, crushing is easier/faster)
You have to be a bit careful not to burn things, but the fat from the olive oil and salami brings out the flavor of the chilis and the fennel seed. If it starts to brown too much, pour in a little wine – whatever you’re drinking – to cool things down and to deglaze the pan.
To this, I added the fennel. As you’ll see from the photo above, I went far beyond one fennel bulb. I used mostly small ones and left out parts that seemed tough, so I think I used between 4 and 5 bulbs. If I had had the large ones often found at the store, I probably had the equivalent of 2 or 2.5 bulbs. You add the fennel and just cook until it starts to soften and take on some color.
Next comes the tomatoes.
- 2-3 cans (14 oz.) tomatoes (recipe calls for 2 cans, but I use 3 given my extra fennel)
- 2 long-ish sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Salt and pepper to taste just before serving
For me, this was a great opportunity to use some more of the canned tomatoes I put up from last fall. I used two of the stewed tomatoes and one tomato sauce. It brought the pan nearly to the brim.
In the original recipe, Jamie Oliver serves the pasta with a mixture of bread crumbs, olive oil and chopped rosemary. You heat the oil in a pan and add the bread crumbs and chopped rosemary and just “fry” it a bit. It makes for a very flavorful topping to go on top of the pasta at the end. Sometimes I feel like doing this and sometimes I just want to throw a little cheese on top.
My final variation, then, is to add the rosemary to the sauce. I add 2 healthy sprigs of the herb at the same time I add the tomatoes. It adds a mellow rosemary flavor which is a nice complement to the fennel flavors and the salami. After it simmers about 25 minutes, you fish out the rosemary and serve it over hot spaghetti, fettuccine, or your favorite pasta. Because the fennel is still chunky, I think it eats best with a long pasta that can be twirled on a fork.
If I add the rosemary when cooking, I usually then only use a bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese on top to serve it. I think it would still be good with the bread crumb mixture since it’d be a sharper flavor of rosemary, but I like the ease of putting it in the sauce and let it mellow out as it cooks.
My self indulgent end: more of the chocolate pudding I made a few days ago…