I’ve always been keen on discovering my new surroundings by foot. Especially since I haven’t owned a car in six years.
So yesterday evening, just as the sun began to make its descent towards the horizon, I set out for a walk to the nearby village center of Villemoustaussou. I quickly came to the realization that there is another plant in competition with grapevines for the Rampant Growth Award in this area: Fennel. If you could make wine from fennel, then O’Vineyards would be all over that. There are both vulgar fennel and Florence fennel varieties on their property…and en masse.
Fennel is a leafy vegetable composed of a bulb, stem and leaves, and is native to the Mediterranean Basin. It can be consumed ”without moderation” in any season, although the French variety mainly appears from June to October. Perplexing enough, it has both culinary and medicinal purposes, and is also one of the main ingredients in absinthe. Totally logical.
I never knew that fennel was commonly associated with Italian food until last year when Chef De Franco first had me taste his excellent pasta dish made from tuna, zucchini, fennel, and a white/red sauce liaison served over giant conch shell pasta (see recipe below). In fact, until then, I didn’t even really know what fennel was besides a bunch of dried seeds that smelled like licorice–there’s a first time for everything, even in your mid to late twenties…right?
Many people report (and I confirm) that snacking on raw pieces of the fennel bulb can help settle the stomach after a big meal. So without further ado, here is Chef De Franco’s Tuna-Fennel Pasta Recipe. Feel free to test out fennel’s digestive properties yourself on this delightful dish!
Chef De Franco’s Tuna-Fennel Pasta
Ingredients for the sauce:
· 1/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
· One 6 oz can of tuna in water
· One medium sized jar of high quality, non-meat/non-cheese based tomato sauce, for example basil flavored or just plain
· One small jar of Bechamel sauce
· Spring onions, finely chopped
· 1/2 large fennel bulb, diced
· 1 medium zucchini, diced
· Salt and pepper
Other ingredients needed:
· If possible, large conch shell shaped pasta (1 package), or any other large shaped pasta that will pick up the sauce easily such as penne or rigatoni.
· Slices of lemon for garniture just before serving
· Friends with whom to share the dish
Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan, add the zucchini, fennel, spring onions, tuna, salt and pepper. Sauté on medium heat until vegetables are soft. Add the tomato sauce. Let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
During the last 10 minutes of the sauce step, cook the pasta (al dente, bien sûr!). When you add the uncooked pasta to the boiling water, add the Béchamel sauce to the simmering pasta sauce (if you add it any earlier than in the last 10 minutes, the Béchamel can turn).
Drain pasta well and mix the sauce into the pasta in the final serving dish. If desired (and I desire it), squeeze fresh lemon juice on the dish to your taste just before serving.
Personally, I enjoy a medium bodied white wine which is rich and fruity (this does not mean sweet!). I’m no wine expert–yet!!–so the best advice I can give you is very basic and humble: pick one you enjoy which is not too mild so as stand on its own paired with this tasty pasta dish! Enjoy with friends–the key ingredient to any successful dish