Got a bulb of fennel and don’t know what to do with it? This easy recipe for vegan fennel pasta is a quick and delicious way to enjoy this Mediterranean vegetable.
Fennel is one of our favourite seasonal veggies and it’s unlike any other! You can find it all year round, but its seasonal peak is late summer to winter.
Fennel is frequently in our veg box and we often see posts on social media from others who have got a bulb of fennel and have no idea what to do with it. So here's a really easy way to use fennel!
We love this recipe because it's so refreshingly tasty, yet so easy and so simple. The few ingredients really let the flavour of the fennel shine through.
The trick to this tasty dish is to slightly caramelise the fennel and then add some fresh lemon juice. This combination also works magic in our caramelised fennel risotto. So if you still have some fennel left after this pasta, that's the next one for you to try!
This fennel pasta is ready in under 20 minutes. It’s got just eight simple ingredients that lets the unique flavour of fennel shine:
- Olive oil
- A bulb of fennel - tips on choosing a good bulb in the FAQ below.
- Brown sugar - just a bit of sweetness helps to balance the strong flavour of fennel.
- Salt & pepper
- Lemon - we're just using the juice, so if you want save the zest for another recipe, zest it first.
- Pasta - we’re using penne here, but other shapes like spaghetti or tagliatelle would work too.
Fennel is a Mediterranean vegetable with an aniseed flavour. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The strong licorice/aniseed flavour gets milder when it’s cooked. It can be an acquired taste, but we love it!
There is also wild fennel and fennel seeds, but when someone refers to a bulb of fennel, they usually mean the white/pale green and frondy cultivated variety. Although it is called a bulb, the part of the plant typically eaten is the inflated leave bases which grow at the bottom of the plant. Also called florence fennel or finocchio, it is very popular in Italian cooking. Which is why it goes so great with pasta!
Choose fresh looking (not dried out), heavy and firm bulbs. The fronds should be green and not yellowing. Younger and smaller bulbs are often more tender and less stringy.
All of the fennel bulb is edible and we try to minimise the amount that is wasted. But in some older bulbs the stalks or the outer layer can be a bit too tough and stringy to be pleasant, so you may like to remove this depending on the bulb you have.
The bulb also has a conical core which can get tough. If you want to remove this, cut into quarters and then slice out the core. The scraps can be saved or frozen to enrich homemade vegetable stock.
The green, feathery tops can be cut off and used as a refreshing raw garnish.
Step by step
For the full cooking instructions and ingredient list, scroll down to the recipe card at the end of the post. Here's a visual step-by-step guide to show you the simple process to cook our tasty fennel pasta.
Step 1 - Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, then add the pasta and cook until al dente (or according to your pasta's instructions).
Step 2 - In the meantime, fry the fennel and onion with brown sugar to caramelise golden brown and season with salt and pepper.
Step 3 - Add the lemon juice and saute to let the flavours merge.
Step 4 - Add some pasta cooking water to spread the flavour around, then stir in the cooked pasta.
Serve it with
You can enjoy this pasta simply on its own, or you can add some of our vegan parmesan on top. Another good way to boost the dish with more texture and nutrients would be to add some toasted seeds or nuts on top.
Serve the pasta with a side salad of rocket/rucola or another seasonal salad. And because fennel naturally pairs well with citrus, an orange salad would be nice too.
Simple pasta recipes
Did you enjoy this simple fennel pasta?
Simple Fennel Pasta
- 300 g (10.5 oz) pasta penne, fusilli
- 1 - 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb sliced, fronds reserved
- 1 large onion sliced
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 60 - 120 ml (¼ - ½ cup) pasta cooking water (see note)
- Bring a large, high-sided saucepan filled ⅔ with water to a boil. Add in the pasta along with 1-2 tsp of salt and cook the pasta until al dente, or according to instructions on the package.
- In the meantime, heat up olive oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat.
- Add the sliced fennel, onion and the sugar to the frying pan and give it a good stir.
- Gently fry while stirring regularly for about five minutes, until the fennel and onion are soft and evenly caramelised to a golden brown color. Turn down the heat a bit if the fennel and onion get dark brown too quickly.
- Season with salt and pepper and stir in the lemon juice.
- Fry for two more minutes, then deglaze the pan by adding the ¼ to ½ cup of starchy water from the pan of boiling pasta. (See note) If you've already drained the pasta at this point, just use tap water. Turn heat to low.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain and add it into the frying pan. Turn off the heat and stir the pasta into the fennel and onion. Adjust sauciness with extra water if necessary.
- Serve up and garnish with the reserved green fennel fronds.Optionally top the pasta with toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds, or a sprinkle of vegan parmesan.
Using pasta cooking water to deglaze the pan works great in this recipe because the starches dissolved in it act as a binder to create a smooth 'juice' to coat the pasta. Also the pasta water is already hot! If you've already drained the pasta and discarded the cooking water, no problem. Just use regular water. How much water?
The amount of water you'll want to add can vary, and it's not lastly up to you how juicy or dry you would like the final dish to be. To start with, anything between ¼ and ½ cup (60-120 ml) will be fine for the 4 portion recipe. The hotter the pan and the longer you simmer down the liquid, the more water you have to add to end up with the same amount of 'pan sauce'. You can always adjust by adding more water or evaporating it off to reduce liquid. When the pasta is stirred in, it will soak up a bit more liquid, and you can still stir in a bit more water to add more moisture to the meal.