Due to unhappy experiences with licorice at Grandmother's as a child, I've long been an anisephobic eater. I don't think I'm alone—the flavor of black licorice is distinct enough to have long spawned lovers and haters. I was, and still am, a hater. And more than that, for a long time, even foods that vaguely tasted of the stuff (like tarragon and fennel) sent me running.
That all changed when I tasted roasted fennel. It's remarkable stuff. A good shot of high, dry heat and the crisp vegetable turns seductively sweet, just as the anise flavor mellows. This recipe, adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper, roasts it with a couple pinches of chili flakes, which shoots everything through with spiciness and keeps the sweetness in check. A can of tomatoes stirred in for the last ten minutes of roasting turns the whole thing into a rich pasta sauce that's full of caramelized flavor.
- 2 fennel bulbs, cored and sliced
- 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
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 can (14 ounces) whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
- 1 pound short pasta
Preheat the oven to 450°F. 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.
In the meantime, bring a pot of salty water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve some pasta cooking water.
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.
Drain the pasta and toss with the roasted vegetables and Parmesan, adding some pasta cooking water if necessary until the sauce is loosened and coats the pasta. Serve immediately.