Today’s Caramelized Fennel Linguine is a tidy little recipe. Minimal ingredients, minimal prep, and a dead simple method. But just because this recipe is short on flourishes doesn’t mean it isn’t toe-curlingly delicious. This pasta dish features caramelized wedges of fennel dressed with a kiss of sherry, a whole lot of butter, and a healthy sprinkling of shredded Grana Padano cheese. Served in a tangle of al dente linguine and finished with toasted breadcrumbs, fennel fronds, and a dollop of creme fraiche, this dish delivers balanced perfection with minimal fuss.
This recipe gets most of its flavor from one of my favorite vegetables – fennel. I love fennel from frond to seed, cooked or raw. But this particular dish might be the tastiest thing I’ve ever done with it. Like its relative, the carrot, fennel is very happy to caramelize. And when you caramelize fennel very tasty things happen. The fennel’s light licorice flavor deepens and becomes sweeter, more well-rounded, and warm. The texture is almost creamy. And since the fennel is fried in equal parts butter and oil, the word “decadent” doesn’t even begin to describe this delicacy.
Caramelizing fennel is incredibly easy to do. Just separate the fronds from the fennel bulb and cut the blub into wedges. Melt a knob of butter in a large skillet and add olive oil. Once the butter is frothy, lay the fennel wedges in the pan, add a sprinkling of salt and leave them be. Most of this recipe hinges on your inactivity. If only all forms of excellence could be achieved this way. Let the fennel fry until deeply golden before flipping the wedges over and repeating. Once the fennel is nice and caramelized, transfer it to a plate and you’re more than halfway to dinner.
Ordinarily, I would encourage you to chop and prep all your vegetables prior to cooking anything. But for this dish, we’re going to stray from that typically good advice. Why? Well, turns out caramelizing fennel takes some time. And there are a few very good reasons for that. We want our fennel as golden as possible on both sides and that requires that we don’t crowd the pan. When you crowd the pan food, especially foods with high water content, tends to steam which hinders the formation of a golden crust. So we’ll have to take it slow with our fennel and work in batches.
The second reason this fennel takes some time is it really should be left undisturbed. Endlessly flipping the fennel won’t result in the caramelization we’re after. And if you’re anything like me and you can’t leave well enough alone, this will be tough for you. So for both of these reasons, I suggest you chop the shallots and garlic after the fennel is underway. It will keep your hands busy and your brain at least slightly entertained while your fennel slowly attains golden perfection. Just be sure to check in on the fennel from time to time. It can get away from you if you’re not careful.
Once the fennel is out of the pan, it’s time to introduce those freshly chopped shallots to the pan. Next, add some thinly sliced garlic and saute briefly. When the shallots and garlic are happy, invite the fennel back to the party. Add a little sherry, a bit of sugar, and yet more butter. You could stop here and have yourself a truly righteous side dish. Just add a sprinkling of cheese and a squeeze of lemon and snuggle the dish in next to a pork chop or a pair of portobello caps.
But if you’re in the pasta mindset as I endlessly am, you’re going to add some cooked linguine to the pan and toss to coat. I like to add a little of the pasta water and a solid cup of shredded Grana Padano cheese to the pan to generate a sauce. From here, it’s toss, toss, toss. And finally, you finish with about half a lemon’s worth of juice for that perfect acidic finish. Finish this Caramelized Fennel Linguine off with toasted breadcrumbs for crunch, a dollop of creme fraiche for creaminess and tang, and fresh fennel fronds for a bit of color and a hit of freshness.
And that’s everything you need to know about this Caramelized Fennel Linguine. It’s one of those paradoxical recipes that boasts a whole lot of complex flavors without being very complex. A few ingredients, a little time, and some light tossing are all it takes to make this total flavor bomb.
Caramelized Fennel Linguine
- 1 Large skillet
- 1 Large pot
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 bulb fennel **
- 4 shallots halved and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ⅓ cup dry sherry
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 250g (9oz) dried linguine
- 1 cup Grana Padano shredded
- ½ lemon juiced
- 2 tbsp creme fraiche heaping
- Pour the breadcrumbs into a large dry skillet and place it over medium heat. Toast the breadcrumbs, shaking the pan frequently, until golden. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a plate and set them aside.½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- Wipe out the skillet and add the fennel seeds. Toast the seeds until fragrant. Transfer them to a small bowl and set them aside as well.1 tsp fennel seeds
- Remove the fronds from the fennel blub and set them aside. Cut the fennel bulb in half and slice both halves into wedges.1 bulb fennel **
- Place 2 tablespoons of the butter and the olive oil in the skillet. Once the butter is frothy, add 4-5 fennel wedges to the skillet along with a generous sprinkling of salt. Cook the fennel over medium-low until golden on one side. Flip the fennel and repeat on the opposite side. Transfer the caramelized fennel to a plate and repeat with the remaining fennel. ***3 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp olive oil
- While the fennel is caramelizing, place a pot of water over high heat and bring it to a boil. Liberally salt the water and add the linguine. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ⅓ of a cup of the pasta water.250g (9oz) dried linguine
- Once the fennel is caramelized and reserved on a plate, place the shallots in the skillet. Add a pinch of salt and sauté until translucent. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant.4 shallots, 2 cloves garlic
- Return the fennel to the skillet and add the sherry, sugar, and the remaining butter. Sauté until the butter melts. Add the linguine and the Grana Padano to the skillet. Add the pasta water and toss over medium-low heat until the pasta is coated and a sauce forms.⅓ cup dry sherry, 1 tbsp granulated sugar, 1 cup Grana Padano
- Take the pasta off of the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste and season with additional salt if needed.½ lemon
- Divide the linguine across two plates and garnish with the breadcrumbs you toasted earlier, a dollop of creme fraiche, and the fennel fronds. Serve immediately.2 tbsp creme fraiche