Day 16 of the Vegan Challenge: a fantastic pasta recipe today. Spaghetti tossed with crunchy, lemon-scented bread crumbs and pine kernels, and topped with braised fennel and cherry tomatoes. Much quicker and easier to prepare than it sounds, you could have this on the table within half an hour! I am a great pasta fan and love to top it with Parmesan. In honour of the Vegan Challenge I tried to come up with an alternative. These crumbs are not Parmesan, are not trying to masquerade as Parmesan and will not remind you of Parmesan. But they are really good: lemon-scented, garlicky and very moreish. Toss through the spaghetti at the last minute to make sure they are still crispy when you eat them! The rich pine kernels, soft, sweet braised fennel and tangy tomatoes provide a beautiful contrast.
pasta with fennel, cherry tomatoes and toasted crumbs
300 gr spaghetti
2 bulbs of fennel
150 gr cherry tomatoes
60 gr bread crumbs, or a slice of stale bread whizzed in the food processor
grated rind of 1 small lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
50 gr pine kernels
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
Remove the outer leaves and cores of the fennel, and cut into eighths. Reserve any undamaged fronds. Boil in salted water for about 7 minutes until tender and drain.
Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions.
Meanwhile, toast the pine kernels in a dry frying pan until golden. Reserve.
Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in the same pan and add the crumbs, half of the garlic and the lemon rind. Fry until golden, stirring frequently. Reserve with the pine kernels.
Heat the remaining oil and add the cherry tomatoes and the fennel pieces and cook over a medium heat until the tomatoes are collapsing. Add the remaining garlic and salt and pepper to taste and cook a minute or two more. You can add a slug of Pernod or white wine if you like.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly then put back into the pan. Quickly stir through the crumbs and pine kernels.. Pile onto plates and top with the braised vegetables and the fennel fronds, finely chopped.