This week’s recipe for a gluten-free, vegan pasta sauce features hearty, healthy fennel. Fennel is packed with dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese, and provides a good amount of folate–a B-vitamin critical for proper function of your nervous system. When munched on raw, it has a light anise flavor that mellows out when cooked.
Fun fact #1: I learned from some family friends who grew up in Europe that the Swiss use raw fennel on veggie platters in place of celery.
Fun fact #2: fennel is one of the primary flavors in absinthe.
I adore the flavor of fennel, raw or not, and always have it on hand during the winter months for frittatas, stir-frys and snack time. What follows is my take on a vegan Fennel “Cream” Sauce. I paired it with gluten-free, quinoa pasta, blacked tomatoes (also included in the recipe) and cast-iron grilled chicken. If you’re aiming to keep this vegan, steer clear of the meat and opt for some cannellini beans instead.
What You’ll Need –
For the Fennel “Cream” Sauce:
- 1 tbs grapeseed oil
- 1/2 fennel bulb, plus 1/4 c fronds
- 1/2 white onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 2 tbs sherry or raspberry vinegar
- Juice of one lemon
- 1/4 c nutritional yeast
- 1/4 c olive oil
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
- Heat grapeseed oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onions (coarsely chopped) and cook 1-2 min. Add fennel (coarsely chopped) and cook another 4-6 min. Once the onion and fennel have softened (the onions will appear translucent and both vegetables will start to brown around the edges), add your garlic–the cloves can remain whole as you’ll be blending this in a food processor–and cook another minute or so. You should start to see brown bits sticking to the bottom of your pan. So as to keep all that yummy flavor in your sauce, splash a couple tablespoons of sweet vinegar into your pan to deglaze. Give the mixture a stir and remove from heat.
- Add mixture to your food processor with the lemon, nutritional yeast. olive oil, turmeric, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until it’s blended to your preferred sauce consistency.
- Pour over cooked, gluten-free pasta or go grain-free with a bowl of hearty winter vegetables or sauteed kale.
For the Blackened Tomatoes:
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 cup grape tomatoes
- Sea salt
- Pre-heat a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat (if you don’t have cast-iron opt for your heaviest frying pan).
- Cut tomatoes in half. On the rounded (uncut) side, make a small “X” cut. Drizzle “X” sides with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Place the tomatoes “X” side down in your preheated pan and let them cook without turning.
- After about 2-3 minutes, peel up the edges and look for blackened skin with a little red showing through–and if you aren’t quite there yet, cook them a little longer.
- Remove from heat and add to your pasta and sauce mix.
To complete the meal:
- 1 cup gluten-free pasta
- 12 oz (or 3/4 lb) protein of choice (I went with free-range chicken)
- Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Fillet the chicken, coat it in some olive oil, salt and pepper (or your favorite marinade), and cook it in the same cast-iron pan (if you have one) as your tomatoes over medium-high heat for about 5 min per side.
- Combine pasta with sauce and blackened tomatoes, then top with slices of your chicken (3 oz per person/serving).