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.
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.
Meatless Spaghetti Sauce
- 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.