Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sicilian Pasta with Fennel, Raisin and Pine Nuts

This recipe is the vegetarian version of Pasta con Sarde. If you have fish eaters in the house it is easy to adapt this recipe so that it works for everyone. For the fish version add a couple of anchovy fillets and a sardine fillet for each portion. The fish should be added at the end of cooking just before incorporating the pasta. I find it easy to take the vegetarian portion out of the pan before adding the fish. This dish also reheats well and makes a nice lunch to take to work.

Fennel has a lovely sweet and slighlty licorice flavor. It pairs beautifully with golden raisins and caramelized onions. Beyond its taste, fennel is also full of phytonutrients particularly quercitin and anethole. The flavonoid anethole has been shown to reduce inflammation and help prevent cancer in animals. Fennel is also an excellent source of vitamin C, folate and potassium.

This whole wheat pasta is full of antioxidants and phytonutrients that are healthy as well as delicious. All we need for dinner is a bowl of this pasta and a salad and we are happy and satisfied.

Sicilian Pasta with Fennel, Raisin and Pine Nut
Makes 6 servings


6 quarts of water
13.5 ounces of whole wheat pasta
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes,
½ teaspoon of fennel seeds
top of the fennel bulb (sliced and wrapped in cheesecloth)
2 cups of white wine, vegetable stock or water
pinch of saffron threads (about an 1/8 of a teaspoon)
¼ cup of golden raisins
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup of pine nuts
¼ cup of whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of finely minced garlic
¼ cup of fresh parsley, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons of capers or minced olives (optional)


Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil with fennel top bag in water. Remove bag of fennel tops and salt the pasta cooking water. Put the pasta in the water and stir vigorously for at least 15 seconds so the pasta will not clump together and stick. Cook the pasta for two minutes less than the package indicates. The pasta will be cooked in the sauce for two minutes to finish the cooking. This will help the pasta to absorb some of the sauce and give it more flavor.

Sauté the onion in one tablespoon of olive oil until it is caramelized. Add the garlic, sliced fennel, fennel seed and crushed red pepper to the caramelized onions. When the fennel has softened add the white wine, saffron, raisins, and tomatoes. If using the capers or olives they should be added at this point in the recipe. If the pan starts to get dry add a few ladles of the pasta cooking water to the pan. Adding water may be necessary when you add the pasta to the saucepan.

In a separate pan toast the pine nuts, olive oil, whole wheat bread crumbs, and minced garlic. Once the breadcrumb mixture has cooled a little you can add the optional fresh parsley that has been finely minced if you think the dish needs more color.

To serve plate the pasta and top with the bread crumb, pine nut, garlic and parsley mixture.


This sauce has a nice gentle heat in the background. The pasta will have a bit of a agro dolce from the sweet of the fennel and onion, and the heat of the crushed red pepper flakes. If you like spicy food it should be safe to double the red pepper flakes. Don't expect this pasta to be "saucy". This pasta is sauced in the Italian style where the pasta is the star and the sauce is the condiment. If you like a lot of sauce on your pasta I would add a 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes to this recipe.

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