All I had to do was read the title of this recipe before I knew I'd be making it for dinner. Flipping through the most recent issue of Bon Appétit, without much belly hunger due to the gluttonous holidays, this pasta stuck out.
Pairing fennel and fennel seeds with some fiery chiles, it sounded like a rather healthy vegetable-laden dish with just a hint of spice that would get me back on the right diet. But what it actually tasted like—once the bacon, fennel, and chiles are all mixed together—was Italian sausage. Hear me out on this.
Fennel seed is one of the most dominant spices in Italian sausage, the chiles help mimic the kick, and the bacon adds the crucial porky edge. Though I hate to use the word, it's kind of like a deconstructed Italian sausage recipe.
This is one of those "sauce-less" pasta dishes I love so much. Instead of a sauce that sits atop a mound of pasta, the sauce seeps into the pasta and the two become one. Each bite is slightly spicy and herbal from the the double dose of fennel. The broth helps give it the creamy texture and the lemon juice cuts through the bacon fat.
- 1 1/2 ounces bacon, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 large red jalapeno, seeded and chopped
- 1 large fennel bulb, stalks and fronds removed, base thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
- 1/2 pound spaghetti
- 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
- Salt and pepper
Add the bacon to a large skillet set over medium heat. Cook until browned. Remove the bacon with slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil to the bacon fat and toss in the garlic and chiles. Cook for 1 minute and then add the fennel. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Pour in broth, lemon juice, half the parsley, and fennel seeds. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover the skillet, and cook for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. With about 5 minutes left in the timer for the fennel, cook the spaghetti according to the directions on the box. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta in a colander.
Remove the cover from the skillet with the fennel. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to high and cook until most of the liquid has been evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the pasta to the skillet along with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/4 cup of cheese, the cooked bacon, and 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Toss well and cook for 1 minute. If mixture is too dry add the other 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid. Otherwise, plate the pasta.
Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.