Baked Fennel, Olive & Lemon Pasta

EpicureanPiranha | July 5th, 2010 - 14:47

When I was living in London, one of my favourite places to shop for groceries was Waitrose  because of the quality of their food, and their wide and frequently changing choice of new and imported ingredients.

Baked Fennel Olive & Lemon Garganelli

The flavour of the golden brown, baked cheese perfectly compliments the caramelised fennel, black olive, and lemon egg pasta.

Looking through the cheeses of Italy one day, I came across a soft cheese called Taleggio. The description sounded very inviting, and since I love experimenting and trying new foods, into my shopping basket it went.

The other nice thing about Waitrose is that when they introduce new food items, they also usually produce a free, glossy recipe card with a simple recipe idea for using it. They had produced a recipe called Olive and Fennel Gratin using this cheese, and since I love fennel, olives and lemons, it sounded very tempting.

Sauteed fennel

The fennel is gently sauteed until golden brown and slightly caramelised.

I particularly love fennel when it’s cooked slowly in olive oil so as to become golden and slightly caramelised – this removes any hint of bitterness and it becomes very sweet. The feathery leaves have a delicate, fresh aniseed flavour.

Here is an excerpt of the description for this lovely cheese from Wikipedia: “Taleggio is a washed rind Italian cheese that is named after Val Taleggio. The cheese has a strong aroma, but its flavour is comparatively mild with an unusual fruity tang. Its crust is thin and studded with salt crystals”. The name Taleggio has been used before the 10th century in the caves of Val Taleggio. It might be one of the oldest soft cheeses! It melts well, and can be used in risotto or on polenta.

My recipe is an enhanced version of Waitrose‘s recipe for Olive and Fennel Gratin. You can easily halve or double this recipe.

Baked Fennel, Olive & Lemon Pasta

Olive oil for gratin dish.

750 g (1 2/3 lb) fresh fennel bulbs, stalks removed, thinly sliced, the nicest feathery leaves reserved.
30 ml (2 Tbs) olive oil
15 ml (1 Tbs) butter
♦———————————–♦ 

Baked Fennel Olive & Lemon Garganelli
Set aside the whispy fennel leaves to decorate the plates. They have a delicate anise flavour and look lovely.

300 g (2/3 lb) imported Garganelli or other dry egg pasta such as penne, or 600 g fresh egg pasta
125 – 180 ml (1/2 – 3/4 c) sliced black olives
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
10 ml (2 tsp) dried oregano, or twice as much fresh
30 ml (2 Tbs) chopped flat leaf parsley
60 ml (1/4 c) olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
♦———————————–♦

 

225 g (1/ 2 lb) Taleggio cheese, sliced

  • Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
  • Oil a large gratin dish
  • Chop the herbs, zest & juice the lemons, and slice the cheese while you sautee the fennel.
  • Add the oil and butter to a large heavy frying pan. Once hot, add the fennel and cook over med-heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until golden. This takes about 15 minutes – don’t rush it or the flavour won’t be the same [note that you may have to do this in two batches].
  • Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water to boiling. If using dried egg pasta, cook while preparing fennel, otherwise wait until you’ve finished as fresh pasta only takes a few minutes to cook.

    Baked Fennel Olive & Lemon Garganelli

    Once all the ingredients have been mixed with the pasta and placed in the oven-proof dish, top with the cheese before baking.

  • Once the pasta is cooked, drain and put it back into the pot.
  • Add the fennel, olives, lemon zest & juice, oregano, parsley, lots of freshly grated pepper, olive oil, and a little sea salt.
  • Mix gently with a large wooden spoon so as not to damage the pasta shapes.
  • Empty into the gratin dish and press a little if using pasta shapes. Top with slices of Taleggio and bake in centre of oven for about 20 minutes or until very hot.
  • If the cheese isn’t golden yet, broil the top for a few minutes but watch carefully.
  • Serve immediately, decorating the pasta with the reserved fennel leaves.

Notes:

  • It may look like the dish contains lots of fennel, but the fennel will lose a considerable amount of volume as it cooks and the moisture evaporates.
  • You can also use other cheeses for this dish. Italian Provolone is delicious, and Le Lotbinière, a Québec cheese I recently discovered with a buttery, nutty flavour, is also nice in this dish.
  • You can prepare the dish ahead: do not add the cheese, cover in cling film and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before placing in the oven. Top with the cheese, and bake at 180C (375F) for 25 – 30 minutes.
  • If you plan to have friends over to share this meal, start with a selection of Italian antipasto. Arrange 4 or 5 different ingredients on a nice plate, such as proscuitto, roasted, peeled and marinated sweet peppers, grilled aubergine, tuna in oil, seafood salad, and griddled asparagus, and let guests serve themselves. Serve something light for desert, such as a fresh fruit salad marinated in an orange liqueur or individual pavlovas topped with fresh raspberries.
  • Serve with a buttery white wine such as a burgundy or chardonnay.
Baked Fennel Olive & Lemon Garganelli

Use the reserved fennel leaves to decorate the plates.

11 Responses to “Baked Fennel, Olive & Lemon Pasta”

  1. Fleur says:

    Hi Epi!

    This looks like such a wonderful recipe, I will try it tonight!

  2. Beautiful recipe that has my name written all over it! Love caramelized fennel and we love Taleggio! Gorgeous!

  3. Julien says:

    Ce n’est pas julien, c’est moi !!!(solange)
    Génial, c’est exactement la recette dont j’avais besoin pour recevoir ce soir…
    j’apprécie beaucoup les petits conseils de “pro.” que tu donnes… souvent je ne sais pas trop par quoi remplacer tel ou tel fromage…
    bisous

  4. dubonnet says:

    Couldn’t wait for the weekend…made it for lunch!
    Served kabobs of marinated mushrooms, mozzarella balls, roasted red pepper and dry cured farmers sausage.

    The tagleggio wasn’t available but the cheese store suggested another brie. I topped half the gratin with the brie and half with provolone to see which I preferred.

    I really enjoyed the flavours of this dish and the fact it can be prepared in advance!!
    Will make again!! Thanks!

  5. dubonnet says:

    That sounds good too…..I hope to get the ingredients for this pasta and make it this weekend…..if I do I’ll let you know how my efforts turned out!

    • Oh yes, please do! I alwyas taste it after I’ve mixed everything up [before topping with the cheese], to correct seasoning before baking. I love the fresh taste of lemon, and sometimes I add more. I also love freshly ground pepper and find a little sea salt [I grind mine] added at the end enhances the flavours. I hope you enjoy it and look forward to your comments!

      ~ Epi

  6. dubonnet says:

    Wow!! Just what I’ve been looking for! I’m anxious to try this!! Sounds like a perfect meal!! Thanks for all the serving suggestions to go with it!!

    • Hi Sharon – I’m happy to hear it :-> I love fennel, it has such a wonderful flavour, and it has so many health benefits. I have another recipe that’s to die for – I prepared it for Christmas dinner 2 years ago. Veal marinated in fennel and white wine, then slowly cooked. It’s an Italian dish that is just wonderful. My photos of it at the time weren’t that great however, so I’ll have to make it again once it gets a little cooler outside!

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