Caramelized Fennel Pasta

fennel pasta This has been a womp womp sort of week around here.
(not to be confused with whoomp of “whoomp there it is.”)

Owen has cut his first tooth and has therefore deemed sleep totally unecessary…for all of us. In addition to that, overnight he turned into Pink Eyed Pete, and he’s been so gassy for the past week that I’m considering giving up dairy, people, dairy.

On top of that, winter is starting to creep in…a lot of trees have lost their leaves, and it’s been cold…cold enough to legitimize jackets and scarves, which I normally love, but I’m just not feeling winter this year, you know? No more sandals or farmers markets or leaving the windows open…just cold, wind, snow, and ice.

fennel pasta ingredients And I had to kill an earwig this morning in our shower. And I hate earwigs.

First World Problems, anyone?

This kind of week needs all-day pajamas. And hot steamy mugs of tea. And a break from the to-do list. This is the week for simple lunches of apples and cheese, and quick, easy dinners.

fennel-pasta-2 This fennel pasta is the perfect meal for a week like this. It has just a handful of ingredients, comes together quickly, and has tons of flavor. Fennel bulbs are caramelized to a soft  almost-sweetness, while your pasta cooks. Some garlic, some lemon, and some cheese – and shazam – dinner is served. I loved, loved, loved how the flavor of the fennel and lemon worked together, and in weeks to come when we’re more put together, I can see us adding some Italian sausage and red peppers to this dish. But it is so delicious in its simplicity too. I had never really cooked with fennel bulb before, and I’m disappointed that I tried this recipe so late in the season….but if you can find fennel at your farmers market still, I can’t recommend this dish highly enough.

Here’s to a healthier week, a sunnier disposition, and an earwig-killing winter.

fennel pasta

Caramelized Fennel Pasta

Caramelized Fennel Pasta

(recipe from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison)

(yields 4-6 servings)

This quick and easy pasta dish has a lot of flavor from caramelized fennel bulb, with simple additions of lemon, garlic, and cheese to make for a fast, delicious dinner.


2-3 large fennel bulbs, including the greens (chop 1/3 c. of greens, plus more for garnish)

2 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. salt, plus salt and pepper, to taste

grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 garlic cloves, minced

3/4-1 lb. pasta (spaghetti or fettuccine)

shredded or grated cheese to taste (Parmigiano-Reggiano or mozzarella)


Peel and discard the tough outer layers of the fennel bulbs. Chop off the greens and set aside. Quarter the bulbs and then thinly slice.


Heat a large pot of water to boiling for the pasta.


As pot heats up, melt 1 tbsp. of the butter with the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the fennel and saute over high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned in places, about 7-10 minutes. Add 1 tsp. of salt. Toss with the lemon juice and add 1 c. of water.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until water has mostly evaporated. Add another 1/2 c. water and continue to cook (covered) until the fennel is very soft and deep golden in color, about 20-25 minutes in all. Season with pepper to taste.

During this time, cook your pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.


Mix together 1/3 c. of the fennel greens, the garlic, and lemon zest. Add this mixture and the pasta to the softened fennel; stir to combine.


Taste to see if it needs more salt and pepper.


Serve on plates with more chopped fennel greens and the cheese sprinkled over the top.

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10 thoughts on “Caramelized Fennel Pasta

  1. Thank you for the Pepper Ann reference. I can’t adequately describe the smile and subsequent laughter it caused. (My roommate is still giving me a look… )

    Also, I’m trying the recipe this week. I’ll be serving it with spinach brown rice pasta.

    • After I wrote that, my husband asked me what Pink-Eyed Pete referred to. I was aghast that he’d never seen it. So we youtubed it, and now I’ve had the theme song stuck in my head for a week. “Pepper Ann, Pepper Ann, is she cool or is she lame? No one’s cooler than Pepper Ann!”

  2. I tried fennel for the first time this year -only the recipe I tried was raw and a little too strong for my taste. The lemon and caramelization of this recipe would tone it down a lot though. Think I’ll give it a second chance if I can find one tomorrow at the farmers’ market!
    Here’s to a better week!

  3. Funny, this was a pasta kind of weekend for me too. I posted tonight about my pasta dish. Who doesn’t like pasta? I need to experiment with fennel…..thanks for the interesting recipe!

  4. I have to be honest: when I put this on the table in front of my 5, 10, and 15-year-old kids I braced myself for the inevitable groans. My kids shocked me by not only cleaning their plates, but declaring this one of their new favorites and asking when I would make it again. Wha? That’s a winner.

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