Pasta with Fennel Tomato Sauce


I met the original recipe in the book "Patricia Wells at Home in Provence." As soon as I tasted it I wanted to have 10 or 12 jars in the basement. Another weapon in the arsenal, so to speak, for those nights when I can't make myself dice yet another onion. The sauce is a pretty simple tomato sauce really. But the orange zest gives it a sunny disposition and the chili flakes keep you from dozing off. Like most recipes, this one has a variation I'd like to recommend. Cream. The tomato sauce, as is, is good. Very good in fact. But it may be a little edgy for some tastes. A little cream in the sauce softens that. I'm not talking about much, maybe 1/4 cup. But play with it. Like coffee, it doesn't much matter either way. I mean, some people like coffee black and others like it with a little milk. It's not a big deal, just a difference in taste. This recipe sauces one pound of pasta. Doubling the recipe and freezing half works well. I haven't worked out the proportions for canning a large batch. When I do, I'll pass it along.

Serves 4

You need...

45 minutes
Large pot for the pasta
Large skillet or 3-qt. pot w/lid for the sauce
Pasta bowl for serving1 lb. spaghetti


Olive oil
1 c. diced onion
2 t. minced garlic
1/4 t. crushed red pepper
1 fennel bulb, diced (approximately 1-1/2 cups)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 orange, zest only
Salt & pepper
Optional: 1/4 c. cream
Small handful chopped parsley

1) Get a large pot of salted water going for the pasta.

2) Gently sauté the onion in a little oil until it softens, then add the garlic and crushed red peppers. Cook another few minutes, but don't let the garlic brown.

3) Add the fennel and stir. Cover and sweat till the fennel softens, about 10 minutes.

4) Add the tomatoes and orange zest. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, then salt and pepper to taste. (If you're using cream, stir it in after about 10 minutes, then let the sauce continue to simmer another 5 minutes or so.)

5) Give the sauce a 5 or 10 minute head start, then cook the pasta. When it's done, drain and combine the pasta and sauce in the large pot. Stir to coat the pasta evenly and let it cook a moment so the spaghetti absorbs a little of the sauce. Then dump it into a serving bowl, scatter parsley over all, and serve. Note:FennelIt's sometimes marketed as anise. The bulb is the best part. Standard procedure for fennel is to whack off the stalks, quarter the bulb lengthwise and cut out the base like you would for cabbage. At that point it's ready for slicing or dicing. Having said the bulb is the best part, I should say that there's nothing wrong with the stalks. In fact, if you were stuck with a small bulb, you can dice a stalk and use it in this recipe. The major difference is that the stalks are more fibrous, like celery. Actually, the stalks are pretty good to eat raw instead of celery (provided you like licorice).

Tomato illustration Copyright © 1998 by Alma Shon.

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John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.

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