This recipe was inspired by Julia, who was looking for a way to use fennel stalks, and by Serena, whom I ran into at the Food Coop and who prodded me to buy pasta of the quality that she was accustomed to in Italy. “It’s worth it,” she promised as she tucked a super long package of spaghetti into my cart. Thank you, my friends! I love that there’s always something new to try in the kitchen.
A shorter pasta with nooks and crannies to hold the chunkier bits in the sauce would be the more classic choice, but this pasta was quite sturdy and held up fine. And Serena was right, the difference was worth the 3 dollars I would have saved if I had bought a more mass market brand. The pasta was paler than what I’d expect from semolina, but had small specks that gave it a very faint whole grain appearance. It also had a very light nuttiness.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as dressing if necessary
1 medium onion, chopped
Stalks of one medium fennel bulb, fibrous ends removed and lower tender portions chopped (of course, you can also use the bulb itself but I had only the stalks left and wanted to put them to use)
Kosher salt, to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 small anchovy fillets or about 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces light canned tuna, drained and loosened up into large flakes. (If possible, use tuna packed in oil. If it’s packed in water, drain very well and dress with olive oil while flaking. Note: Skipjack and light albacore tuna are generally lower in mercury and less vulnerable to overfishing than many other varieties of tuna.)
2 cups chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
¾ cup white wine
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
1 tablespoon capers, lightly rinsed
Optional: 3 tablespoons minced fennel fronds
¼ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound dry spaghetti pasta
- Bring a large stockpot filled with water to a boil while you prepare the sauce.
- Heat a wide saucepan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When oil is hot, add onion, fennel, and a pinch of salt. Give it a few stirs to coat the vegetables with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent browning, until onion and fennel are softened, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in garlic, anchovies, and about 3 twists of pepper from a peppermill. Add another tablespoon of olive oil if mixture appears dry. Cook 3 minutes until anchovy has broken down and garlic is fragrant, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in tuna, tomatoes, wine, and another pinch or so of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Add mint, capers, fennel fronds (if using), and parsley. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in lemon juice. Salt to taste.
- Cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain immediately and toss with sauce. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired. Serve in shallow bowls while hot.