Meatless Spaghetti Sauce

4.64 from 11 votes
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This is an easy meatless spaghetti sauce that is a little different from the typical marinara, which is the default meatless pasta sauce in America.

Featuring the marriage of tomato and fennel, also called anise, this kicks up your normal weeknight sauce with new flavors — and doesn’t take any additional time.

Meatless spaghetti sauce with pasta in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Tomatoes and fennel pair well together, especially in summer — fennel has similar cooling properties to cucumber. And this recipe for fennel tomato sauce gets an added anise hit with a splash of ouzo or Pernod, just to liven things up.

It is a great meatless spaghetti sauce — and yes, long pasta, like spaghetti, or homemade pici pasta, are best here. But any pasta shape will do. This is a thick sauce, however, so don’t go with any pasta shape that is too delicate, like angel hair. Even vermicelli is a bit too thin.

If you don’t want to use this as a meatless spaghetti sauce, it is also good with polenta, or as a sauce to simmer calamari, octopus, shrimp or crawfish in. If you do use it as a simmer sauce for seafood, serve it with some crusty bread.

For some variations, you can add a pinch of red pepper flakes, dried oregano or anise seeds once the onions and garlic are soft. Or, if you aren’t in love with the anise flavor, keep the fennel bulb — it’s flavor will be muted in the cooked sauce — and use basil or parsley as your fresh herb, and white wine as the alcohol.

Can’t use alcohol? Use chicken or vegetable stock, or a sparkling apple cider.

You can use this sauce as a base for my spaghetti with crab sauce, and, as I mentioned above, it really shines with fish and seafood.

Once made, this meatless spaghetti sauce will store in the fridge for 10 days or so. It also freezes well, and you can pressure can it for 15 to 20 minutes at 10 psi.

Closeup of meatless spaghetti sauce in a bowl
4.64 from 11 votes

Meatless Spaghetti Sauce

This is a simple, bright fennel and tomato sauce good for pasta, polenta or grits. 
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup fennel, finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup ouzo or other anise-flavored liqueur
  • 1 quart tomato sauce seeded, crushed tomatoes or chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons fennel fronds or mint, chopped
  • Parmesan, pecorino or mizythra cheese to garnish


  • Tip: If you don't want to, or don't think you can, mince the onion and fennel bulb very small, roughly chop them and pulse in a food processor until they are very well chopped, but not a puree.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a wide, deep pan or a large pot. When the oil is hot, add the fennel and onion and sweat them slowly until they are very soft, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle some salt over everything while they are cooking. Stir occasionally, and don't let the vegetables brown -- turn down the heat if you need to. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
  • Stir in the tomato paste and cook this for another few minutes.
  • Kick the heat up to medium high, and pour in the ouzo. Let this boil until it is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Taste for salt and add some if needed. Let this simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  • Optional Step: The following is optional, but makes a better sauce for long pasta like spaghetti. Pour the sauce into a blender or food processor and puree. If you are going to serve this sauce with short pasta, like penne or bowties, you can skip this step.
  • Right before you serve, stir in the fennel fronds or mint. Serve with grated cheese and a light red wine like a Sangiovese or a Grenache.


NOTE: For timing, start your hot water for the pasta right when you begin making this sauce. By the time it boils, you'll be ready to cook your pasta. 


Calories: 164kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 835mg | Potassium: 604mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 738IU | Vitamin C: 14mg | Calcium: 33mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

4.64 from 11 votes (4 ratings without comment)

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  1. Absolutely delicious!!! I had to hack this recipe a little bit for my husband who has to eat non-FODMAP foods (no onion or garlic pieces).
    To work around the onions and garlic, I substituted 2 of the regular olive oil TBSPs with 1 TBSP each of shallot infused olive oil and garlic infused olive oil. Then I substituted the 1/2 cup chopped onion with 1 cup fennel making it 2 cups total of fresh fennel.
    I also hacked the Pernod by substituting a shot and a half of vodka with finally ground anise seeds. I had to add 2 tsps of raw honey to counteract the acidic nature of our tomatoes but. Lord Have Mercy!!! this turned out so delicious!

    I served it over a creamy polenta with fresh parmigiana and to kick up the protein, I added some very well browned “Beyond Beef” vegan protein.

    Thank You soooo much!!!

  2. Hi Hank
    If I was only using only wild fennel in this recipe, how much would I need to replace the fennel bulb with please?

    Many thanks.

  3. Hank,
    Not sure if this is intentional but in H,L,S under Sicilian Tuna Meatballs you omitted the 2T tomato paste. Just noticed and figured I’d pass it along. Got a triple batch simmering now and it’s damn fine without it! Added 8 mashed anchovy fillets to sneak in another element to our 7 fishes feast. Happy Holidays Hank!

  4. I made this sauce this weekend for dinner. I added crumbled sweet Italian sausage (with fennel seeds). It was absolutely delicious!!!

  5. I just returned from 2 weeks in Tusacany and enjoyed pasta with fennel flowers. I was able to buy some and bring it home. I will defintely be making this sauce for the pici I learned to make! Thanks for the recipe.

  6. Aaron: Yep, you can use it. Just chop it finer. Wild fennel stalks can be stringy, especially this late in the year.

  7. Hank,

    I’d of course think about using wild fennel in this recipe, but I understand it doesn’t get much of a bulb. Does the bottom stalk of wild fennel have the same properties as domestic fennel?