If fennel entered a popularity contest, it would probably come close to last place. It’s not widely adored like broccoli or kale. It’s one of those vegetables that you look at and probably don’t know what to do with it. If you browse the recipe list on this site, you can probably figure out my love for fennel. Only cooked though. Never raw. Raw fennel is not my thing. Neither are those black jelly beans if you get my drift. That strong anise, black licorice flavor. We’ll leave it at that. However, when fennel is sauteed or roasted, its flavor is taken to a whole another level. In a good way. Like this recipe.
Fennel is mostly available from fall through spring. So right now is a great time to shop for them. I’ll never forget the time I sent Brockoli to the store for fennel. It took him like an hour to figure out what the heck he was looking for. He had no clue. Fennel…what’s that? Needless to say, he came back with the right thing thanks to Google.
Fresh mint and serrano chiles are the perfect pair to fennel. Just wait. You’ll see.
Did I mention Trader Joe’s had fennel for $2.49 for two? That’s buy one get one free in my book. Yeah, I do a lot of price comparisons among markets. Learned from the best. My Mom.
I can honestly say this is one of my favorite pasta dishes. The heat from the serrano chiles mixed with the coolness of the mint, and poppy seeds for a little crunch. It’s an unique dish packed with surprising flavors. It can be served warm or at room temperature, making it pretty versatile.
Fennel, Chiles, and Mint with Orzo
adapted from Molto Batali
A 1/4 cup of olive oil may seem like a lot, but it will coat, flavor, and keep the pasta from sticking to each other. The mint darkens as you toss it with the pasta. I recommend adding it just right before serving. This dish can also be served at room temperature with a salad for lunch.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 serrano chiles, cored, seeded, and sliced into thin rounds
1 cup orzo pasta
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
poppy seeds, for garnish
In a large saute pan, add the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and fennel. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until fennel is softened. Add the serrano chiles and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until fennel is golden. Turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and cook for 7 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender, but still firm to bite. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl.
Add the fennel mixture and mint to the bowl with orzo. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and serve.