Yes, yet another pasta dish. I am a pasta-aholic, I can admit it. I cannot get enough of the stuff and I am always excited to try out new recipes. The possibilities really are endless and it’s rare that I meet a pasta dish that I don’t love. This recipe is no exception. I came across it a while back and couldn’t wait to try it with a few subtle changes. Even with the bacon and cheese, it is still very light and healthy pasta dish. See you can have your bacon and eat it, too!
The subtle crunch and bold flavor from the fennel is so wonderful and the heat from the chilies is what I live for in a spicy dish. The original recipe calls for red jalapeños, though I could only find green, I think the red would have really been nice for a pop of color. It also called for seeding the chilies, but I left them in, when I tasted the peppers while I was cutting they didn’t have too much heat, and I really wanted a good kick. It is rare that I find something to be too spicy. If you want a more subtle spice, certainly leave the seeds from the chilies out and you can always make it spicier at the end, if it needs it, by adding in some red pepper flakes. The recipe also called for adding in crushed fennel seeds untoasted, I felt like toasting the whole seeds first would give a much better flavor by releasing it during toasting, not only did it taste great, the house smell amazing. Additionally, the original recipe called for pancetta instead of bacon. Since we buy all of our pork from Sojourner Farms, a local pasture-raised farm, I decided to use some of the delicious bacon that we purchased from them, instead. I would advise not to substitute dried herbs for the fresh stuff in this dish, it would surely be missed. It is also important to use a low-sodium broth, as you will reduce the broth down and you will also be getting some salt from the bacon (or pancetta), you can always add more salt to taste, before serving. I am a big fan of using the pasta water to thicken and bring back liquid to a pasta dish, just go slow so you don’t add too much, but don’t leave this step out, it can make or break a dish without sauce, like this one. Obviously, I also changed the original recipe by substituting gluten-free spaghetti, if you aren’t gluten-free you can use whatever your favorite pasta is, a nice whole-wheat spaghetti would be great, I am sure.
If you wanted to make this vegetarian you could easily leave out the bacon and use a vegetable broth instead of chicken, you may just want to add in a bit more fresh herbs to bump up the flavors. It would still be very tasty and hearty.
Spicy Spaghetti with Fennel and Herbs
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine
6 slices of farm fresh local, pasture raised bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large jalapeño chiles, finely chopped – remove seeds if you want less heat
2 large fennel bulbs, stalks trimmed, cut into thin wedges with some core attached
1 1/2 cups low-salt organic free-range chicken broth
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
11/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 pound gluten-free organic brown rice spaghetti (or whatever your favorite pasta is, gluten-free or not)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano or Pecorino Toscano cheese, divided
Toast the fennel seeds in a large dry skillet over high heat, until slightly brown and fragrant. Remove the seeds and set aside. Sauté bacon in the same large skillet over medium heat until golden and a bit crispy. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the bacon drippings in skillet. Add garlic and chiles; sauté over medium heat 1 minute. Add the fresh fennel; cook until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Mix in broth, 2 tablespoons parsley, lemon juice, and the toasted fennel seeds. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until fennel is very tender, 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook pasta until tender; drain. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Transfer pasta back to the pot or a large serving bowl.
Uncover skillet with fennel mixture and return to high heat. Cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Add fennel to pasta. Stir in 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 cup cheese, and pancetta. Add cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if it’s too dry. Toss pasta; transfer to serving bowl if it was in a pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons parsley over. Serve with cheese.