Chilies and fennel: Yet another success in my ongoing quest for inexpensive, unexpected, and healthy pasta meals. This is definitely on the lighter side, almost more of a salad, but the nuanced flavors and textures will hit just the right notes for those tired of the same old heavily sauced noodle dishes, and the servings are big enough to qualify as a main dish. Casarecce is by no means mandatory for this; I just liked the way it looked. Penne, ziti, or any other medium tubular pasta works just as well.
Recipe adapted from Mario Batali’s “Simple Family Meals From My Home to Yours”. As below it makes 3 servings.
• 12 oz. casarecce, penne, or similarly shaped pasta: $1
• 1 large serrano chile (or similar-sized chile that’s not overly spicy or has a slow-burning heat), seeded, deveined and chopped: 6 cents
• 1 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, toasted (this dish is so simple that fresh bread crumbs from the highest-quality bread you can find is kind of imperative; don’t bother making this if you only have the pre-dried powdery stuff): $0
• 4 small cloves garlic, chopped: 4 cents
• 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced into matchsticks (or as close as you can get; you can see in my picture below it doesn’t have to be perfect), fronds (just the leafy parts; not the ribs) reserved and chopped: $1.19
• 2 T oil: 6 cents
• 2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated: $2
• Salt and pepper: 2 cents
TOTAL: $4.37/3 = $1.46/serving
Bring a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat.
Add the fennel and cook until very soft and starting to brown, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the chiles and 1 cup of the bread crumbs, cook for another couple of minutes to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from the heat.
Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water. Add the pasta (do not rinse) to the pan with the fennel mixture. Add the chopped fennel fronds and a little bit of the cooking water and toss/stir over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until well combined, adding more cooking water if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with the remaining 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and the cheese.