Ziti with a Seafood-Fennel Sauce
I love fennel, I love to eat it raw at the end of a meal, thrown in a salad, roasted, over pasta, I love the seeds and how in Indian restaurants they often bring bowls of them with seed-sized candies at the end of the meal. Like eggplant, I had never had fennel until I moved to Southern Italy when I was 16, but fennel I had never heard of. At the end of a big meal my host father would always bring out a large platter of fennel cut up into quarters as a digestive, which leaves you feeling clean and full as opposed to just full.
Fennel and fish also mix beautifully, either roasted together or like in this dish, over pasta. The idea for this pasta came from a recipe that I found on Martha Stewart’s website, which I am not ashamed to admit. The original recipe was for fennel, capers and canned tuna, which was very good and this recipe could easily substitute the fresh fillet of fish with a can of tuna, but don’t skip out on the raisins, they add a wonderful sweetness to this pasta.
Ziti with a Seafood-Fennel Sauce
- 2 medium-sized fennel bulbs (preferably with leaves)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 2-3 tsp salted capers, rinsed (you can also use pickled capers)
- 1 tbsp raisins
- 1 cup fresh tomatoes, preferably pachino (cherry), chopped or quartered if using pachino tomatoes
- 1 filet of fresh fish (I used groper because that was what was available, canned tuna is also good)
- 1/2 lb of ziti lisci pasta (any smooth pasta will work for this, Martha suggested linguini which were great)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt for pasta water
Clean fennel by cutting off the bottom part, the stalks and removing the outer skins. Be sure to snip the leaves off and set them aside. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, rinse well under cold water and slice crosswise leaving the round half-moon shape.
Heat oil in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat and add the whole cloves of garlic. When garlic starts to sizzle add slices of fennel. Sauté fennel over high heat for about five minutes or until they start to brown, lower heat to a medium flame.
In the meantime, fill a large pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Add capers and raisins, let simmer for a few minutes and then add tomatoes. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break up and release their liquids.
Rinse fillet of fish under cold water and massage it a bit to feel for any bones. You want to remove any bones in the fillet so that they don’t end up in your throat, you can do this with your fingers or with a knife. Add fillet to the sauce, you don’t need to cut the fillet up before putting it in the sauce, as the fish cooks it will be easy to break up with a wooden spoon. Add cup of dry white wine and bring sauce to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer until the pasta is cooked. (If you are using canned tuna, wait until the pasta water is boiling to add the tuna).
Once the water starts to boil for the pasta add a small handful of salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
When the pasta is perfectly al dente, turn up the heat on the sauce and drain the pasta. Without shaking all of the water out of the colander pour the pasta into the pan and toss it with the sauce. This allows for the pasta to cook a little longer in the sauce and to absorb the flavor.
When you have plated the pasta sprinkle it with the fennel leaves for seasoning.
I try to use as little salt as possible in most of my food, not because I don’t like it, but it isn’t very good for us. Generally when I make pasta I’ll only use salt in the water for the pasta and not in the sauce. I’ve only recently started eating less salt, and I’m amazed to actually taste the flavors of the food that I am eating as opposed to the flavors covered up by the taste of salt.