Tomatoes and fennel pair well together, especially in summer — fennel, also called anise, has similar cooling properties to cucumber. And my 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 vegetarian sauce to serve with pasta, ideally long pasta, like spaghetti, or homemade pici pasta, 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 sauce for pasta, it is 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.
Once you make your fennel tomato sauce, it 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.
Tomato Fennel Sauce
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup fennel, finely chopped
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/4 cup ouzo or other anise-flavored liqueur
- 1 quart tomato sauce seeded, crushed tomatoes or chopped fresh tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon mint or lemon verbena, chopped
- Salt to taste
- Parmesan, pecorino or mizythra cheese to garnish
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide, deep pan or a large pot. When the oil is hot, add the fennel and onion and saute for 4-5 minutes, until translucent. Sprinkle some salt over everything while they are cooking. Don't let the veggies brown -- turn down the heat if you need to. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two.
- Pour in the ouzo and let this boil until it is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, honey and mint and mix well. Taste for salt and add some if needed. Let this simmer gently for 30 minutes.
- 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.
- Pour the blended tomato fennel sauce back into the pot and bring to a simmer. You're ready to serve. This stuff packs a lot of flavor, so use less than you think you need at first. Serve with a light red wine like a Sangiovese or a Grenache.