Spaghetti with braised Fennel, toasted Pine Nuts, and sweet Raisins
When I think of Spaghetti, images of either a red, tomato-based sauce or of a white, dairy-based sauce come to mind. Both types of sauces are intricately linked to pasta – mostly based on the dominance of an Italian approach to cooking noodles in our everyday lives.
If I expand the term a bit and don't use the common Italian pasta shape, I also have no trouble thinking of an Asian approach to cooking noodles – there are plenty of variations that I can envision. Sure, you generally wouldn't call these noodles Spaghetti, but the basic medium remains the same (or similar).
Clearly, however, other cultures have readily embraced pasta as a great medium to carry all types of ingredients – from smooth sauces, to veggies, to all kinds of meats.
Admittedly, Middle Eastern cuisine does not really come to mind – at least not to my mind – when I think of noodles. My associations would run the gamut from Couscous to Pita to Quinoa.
That said, one simply cannot deny Arab influences on the cuisine of some southern Italian regions. One cannot help but notice that in some of those regions, pasta is readily blended with cinnamon, raisins, and pine nuts. It is this very approach to cooking Spaghetti – or really, any pasta shape – that I try to capture with this recipe.
As always, I try to keep the list of ingredients short, the process quick and simple, and the result simply delicious.
1 lb. Spaghetti.
2/3 cup Raisins.
½ cup Pine Nuts.
¼ cup Olive Oil.
1 large Onion.
1 large Fennel bulb.
1 to ½ cups of water.
¼ – ½ tsp. good quality Cinnamon, to taste.
1 tsp. Salt.
Let's get started:
Bring a large pot of salt water to a boil.
While the water is heating up, put the raisins in a bowl and pour hot enough water into the bowl to cover the raisins. Alternatively, you can simply cover the raisins with water and put the bowl in the microwave for a minute or two... Whichever is more convenient.
Let the raisins soak in the water until needed.
Add the pine nuts to a small pan and heat over medium heat. Either shake the pines nuts constantly or move them around with a wooden spoon. Do NOT let them out of sight – pine nuts burn easily.
Keep shaking or stirring the pine nuts until the obtain a lovely golden hue.
Upon reaching that lovely color, immediately remove them from a pan – put them into a small bowl or simply on a paper towel. Do NOT leave them in the pan – the remaining heat of the pan will burn them!
Set the pine nuts aside until needed.
Next, remove the stalks and feathery fronds from the fennel bulb.
Reserve some of the fronds and finely chop them like you would any herb.
Cut of the generally darker (or dirty looking) base of the fennel bulb.
Place the bulb onto you cutting board with the freshly made cut down.
Slice the bulb along its length, top to bottom, creating two halves.
In the lower center, you will see a distinct core. Remove that core with a paring knife.
Now place the two halves cut-side down on the board and cut them in half again.
Thinly slice them and set aside.
Peel the large onion and chop – the pieces certainly don't have to be uniform. I prefer a rougher chop rather than a fine one.
In a very large pan (for which you have a lid), heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add the chopped onion and fry until soft – about 3 to 4 minutes.
While the onions are softening, drain the raisins.
Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the sliced fennel, the raisins, and about a cup of water.
Stir and add the tsp. of salt and ¼ tsp. cinnamon.
Let the mixture heat up.
Once it is heated thoroughly, taste for cinnamon – some people prefer just a hint of a cinnamon flavor, while others, like me, prefer a much bolder taste. If you prefer a bolder taste, add a bit more cinnamon. Like any cooking, individual preferences should guide you in your decision to add flavoring!
Cover the pan and let simmer for 20 minutes.
Once the 20 minutes are up, cook your Spaghetti to your liking.
Sample a thicker piece of Fennel to see if it is tender and to make sure the seasonings are to your liking. If the fennel is not tender yet, give it another minute or two.
Adjust seasonings if necessary.
Drain the pasta and put in a large serving bowl.
Add the fennel/onion/raisin sauce.
Add the toasted pine nuts.
Sprinkle the chopped fennel fronds on top