Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spicy Spaghetti with Fennel, Pancetta & Romano Cheese

Hey Blogstalkers!

It's been quite a while since I posted a new recipe and so today I wanted to share one of my absolute favorites with you.  A somewhat-spicy, garlicky pasta with fennel and crispy pancetta.

This recipe is adapted from the January 2010 Bon Appetit magazine, which I have had a subscription to since college.  Not that I ever attempted any of the recipes back then but I would rather look at pictures of food than celebrities pumping gas (they're just like us!) any day and I loved to stare at the glossy pages and dream of the day I would have things like a stove and pans of my own.

The first time I made this recipe was with my (very literally) little sister Nicky.  She is like a very tiny version of me with much better style.  This is her with Ryan.  She is wearing like four inch heels in this picture.

Anyway, Ryan was working nights and Nicky had come to keep me company one random Tuesday and we felt like cooking.  Since Ryan wasn't home it was one of the rare occasions I could make a dish that was (almost) meatless, so Nicky and I perused the pages of all of my magazines and finally decided on this recipe.

Neither of us had ever cooked with fennel before and so the black licorice smell was off-putting and we were positive the dish would be a flop.  We reluctantly completed it and tasted the results and were floored.  It was SO delicious.  Subtly spicy and cheesy, the salt from the pancetta and the sweetness of the fennel perfectly offsetting each other.  It was instantly one of both of our favorite dishes.

Since then I have made the dish again and again.  It's actually the ONLY mostly-meatless dish Ryan tolerates for dinner.  He doesn't even ask me to make him a piece of chicken or something on the side!

I hope you all enjoy it as much as we do!

Spicy spaghetti with Fennel, Pancetta & Romano cheese

**Adapted from a recipe from the January 2010 edition of Bon Appetit Magazine**


3 oz Pancetta, chopped

3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided

4 Garlic Cloves, minced

(heaping) 1/4 c. chopped Jalapeños

2 large Fennel Bulbs, sliced vertically

1 1/2 c. low-sodium Chicken Broth

4 TBS flat leaf Parsley, divided

2 TBS Lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds, crushed (I just put them on a cutting board and press down on them with the textured side of my meat mallet.  You'll smell when they're crushed.)

1 lb Spaghetti

1 1/2 c. grated Romano Cheese

Lemon wedges for garnish.

Here is everything before I got to knife-wielding.

And here are my stand-in helpers since Nicky was busy not wanting to drive to the city just for spaghetti LAUREN.

And here is my pretty mise en place.  Ooh la la.


Saute pancetta in a skillet over medium heat until it is starting to crisp, careful not to burn it.  Remove pancetta from the skillet using a slotted spoon or spatula and place on a bed of paper towels.  Gently pat the top with another paper towel to remove some of the fat, but do not drain the pan.

Explain to your husband that Pancetta is Italian bacon but that you have no idea if that means the pigs were Italian or the butchers were Italian and that is a ridiculous question and get out of my kitchen.

 Add 1 TSP olive oil to the drippings in the pan, swirling to coat.  Add the garlic and jalapeños to the pan and saute for about 1 minute or until you can really smell the garlic.

Add the fennel to the pan and cook until it is starting to wilt and slightly darken in color, about 5-6 minutes.

Now add the chicken broth, 2 TBS of the parsley, the lemon juice and fennel seeds.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and cover.  Cook about 20 more minutes until fennel is falling-apart-tender.

In the meantime, cook the pasta, reserving a big scoop full of the cooking liquid.

Return the fennel mixture to high heat (uncovered) and cook until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the spaghetti to the fennel.  Mix in the remaining 2 TBS of olive oil, 1/2 c. Romano cheese and pancetta.

If the mixture is too dry, add splashes of the reserved cooking liquid.

Garnish with the remaining parsley, cheese and if you desire (I always do), an extra lemon wedge or two.



  1. This looks so good. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know fennel was a vegetable on its own- I thought it was just an herb. Also, does it HAVE to be low sodium chicken broth? (Like what I did there? Asking a question even though we both know I won't actually cook this?)

    1. I told you Katie, I will just overnight you the leftovers. You can even reheat it and pretend like you cooked it. Jim will be flabbergasted.

    2. I would also like to join the "Online Cooking Club But Instead of Actually Attempting to Try to Cook the Recipes Found Online I Shall Instead Giggle at the Backstory While Sipping Wine Then Pay the Author to Cook for Me and Fedex Me a Share" Club. Thankssomuch.

  2. I’m so excited for a new cooking post! This looks great! I’m sure our small town grocery store won’t have fennel thought. I like trying new recipes and you should see the looks I get from the store clerks when I ask for things like quinoa, anchovy paste, and hummus.

    1. Ohhh I LOVE anchovy paste. I haven't used it in so long but it makes the best Caesar dressing! Have you tried to make your own hummus with cans of chickpeas?

    2. You can try substituting celery (get a stalk with a big root bulb end) or leeks for the sliced fennel to replicate the texture and then using extra fennel seeds to up the flavor ante.

  3. I haven't, but I would love a hummus recipe post if you have a good one!

    1. If you google Smitten Kitchen Hummus, she has a really good recipe on her site. Yes you have to peel the chickpeas but it does make for the smoothest hummus ever. I add more lemon but that is because I add more lemon to everything. I use canned chickpeas instead of the dried ones and serve it with crumbled goat cheese on the top and it is DELICIOUS.

  4. This looks wonderful and I'll have to try it (even though I hatehatehate anything black licorice-y).

    1. Mary, I'm not a big black licorice fan myself so when it smelled strongly of black licorice while cooking the first time I got nervous, since as I said, I hadn't used fennel in the past. But the flavor of fennel works very much like that of an onion, bitter and strong raw but much sweeter and really not too licorice-y at all once a bit of caramelization sets in. I highly suggest you try it!

  5. I cooked with fennel for the first time last week and had no idea what to expect. I just started throwing random stuff in the sautee pan and hoped for the best. I will definately have to give your recipe a try.

    1. Do it! And totally let me know how it goes!

  6. I love cooking with fennel. In the summertime it's great in salads! Also, Brian refuses to consider anything a meal unless it has meat in it. But Sometimes I can trick him with pasta dishes. :)

    1. Chrissy I have a really good recipe for Turkey Chili that I use to trick Ryan to eat less meat if you're ever interested. Yes it does have meat in it, but only 1/2 lb for like 6-8 servings. He totally never notices!

  7. Holy carp - I had bought some fennel and parsley on a total whim and now I know what to do with it! Awesome. Will let you know how it turns out...

    1. Yes! So excited to hear if you like it or not!

  8. This sounds delicious -- My son and I love spicy, my daughter is a wuss... so, do you think this would still be good without the jalapeno? Or maybe a mild green chili?

    1. It's actually not THAT spicy as far as recipes go. Maybe just try using one small jalapeno? The flavor mellows with cooking.

  9. I made it tonight! Very good. I think the jalapenos I bought were the super tame kind because there was no heat, but that was okay. The fennel is awesome. I think next time I might double the pancetta, it was really good and I wanted more. I may or may not have eaten seconds. And thirds. Maybe.

  10. I made this Sunday for Easter, added a touch more pancetta, and peas. It was awesome!! thank you :)

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