While I’m on the subject of fennel (see yesterday’s post), I wanted to make this pasta dish. It’s spaghetti tossed with caramelized fennel, leeks, garlic, chili flakes and mint. You can make the same dish as a vegetable, omitting the spaghetti, but tonight, it’s my main course and I’m in the mood for pasta.
The fennel is slivered and sauteed until golden brown, then the leeks and garlic are added and caramelized as well. A splash of white wine adds a little acidity, the chili flakes add heat and the mint cools it down. It’s a hearty but light dish.
The question of whether or not to top with grated cheese is always a serious one . . . Since this dish is of my own creation, I can’t say for sure whether Italians would top it with cheese or not, but if I had to guess, I’d say not.
But, by the same token, since the dish is of my own creation, I choose to top it with some sharp pecorino romano, which is a natural with olive oil, garlic and mint. The truly Italian thing to do might be to top with some toasted breadcrumbs. My mother makes a beautiful simple dish of cavatelli topped with toasted breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil that would serve as my model. But since I had fennel gratinata last night, I’m not in the mood for toasted crumbs tonight–I’ll save the crumbs for some other time.
Spaghetti with Fennel, Leeks and Mint
2 medium bulbs of fennel
1 bunch leeks, white part only, cleaned, sliced lengthwise, and cut into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, sliced in half
4 tbls olive oil
1/2 c white wine
12 mint leaves
pinch of chili flakes
1 lb spaghetti
salt and pepper to taste
Remove fennel tops and slice bulbs in half lengthwise. Cut out the core from each half. Slice accross the bulbs to create half-moon slices of fennel. In 2 tablespoons of olive oil, saute the fennel over medium high heat for about 10 minutes or until golden, stirring often. Add leeks, garlic, and chili flakes and cook for another 5 minutes. turn up heat and add white wine and continue cooking until wine is reduced by half (about 5 minutes).
Cook spaghetti until a minute shy of done, then toss into the skillet with the fennel mixture. Add about a half-cup of pasta cooking water, the mint and toss together for about a minute to combine. Off the heat, drizzle olive oil on top.