This is a dish that single-handedly initiated and inspired my culinary interests. It is yet another Jamie Oliver recipe, and I make no apologies for that. On my 17th birthday, while living in Finland with a lovely host family, I was given a cookbook called Happy Days with the Naked Chef. This is when I started to adore cooking – and for several reasons: It gave my overworked host mom time to relax (although she would supervise and clean up after me in the kitchen anyways). I learned what it meant to cook with premium ingredients purchased, picked or baked the same day its eaten. And finally I felt the satisfaction of giving other people joy from something I created with my hands. What a gift to be able to give.
Start with a dense, spicy salami. I’ve tried several, and the best I’ve come so far is a Schniders version called Salsa Salami. I have yet to try the specialty Italian grocery to try something else, but this one is available at Sobey’s, and is the best I’ve found. Slice about 100 grams of the salami into skinny triangles – this way it will get tangled with the spaghetti and stay on the fork. Fry the salami in extra virgin olive oil on medium-high heat until crispy. I add 3 or 4 cloves of chopped garlic once the salami is half crisp as is will burn if it is added too early. Add 1 chopped fennel bulb – make sure you core it first – the core is woody and spongy – save some feathery fennel tops for garnish. Add another glug of olive oil to coat the fennel, cover and let cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the fennel is sweating and translucent, then add a large can of whole plum tomatoes. Depending on the quality, you may have to partially drain the tomato juice. Stir the tomatoes in and begin to simmer on medium-low. Use your wooden spoon to mash up the tomatoes in the pan – chunks are good, whole tomatoes aren’t. Once the sauce has thickened, it will be quite chunky with all that fennel goodness. Season appropriately, a pinch of sugar is usually needed depending on the acidity of your tomatoes. I usually add a teaspoon of oregano here as well. I always use spaghettini for this – something about the thinner pasta is so delicate and luxurious, and it doesn’t hide the fennel & salami. Bring your cooked pasta, still in the water, next to the pan, use tongs or a spaghetti spoon to bring it into the pan – this keeps the pasta moist, fresh, and allows it to soak up some goodness from the pan.
Once plated, I grate a touch of proper parmesan with the fennel feathers and couple slices of buttered bread. Beer is an excellent companion to this spicy dish – especially something as creamy and flavourful as Hoegarrden. The heat of this dish depends on the amount of spice in the salami – and I always add red chili flakes. If you hate the bitter licorice flavour of fennel, don’t worry – once cooked like this it turns sweet and wonderful.
This was such an inspiring dish for me, not only because it was the first dish I really created myself, but also because it’s fast, tasty and rewarding. Its become a Thursday night kind of meal now – when its almost the weekend, so lets celebrate early!