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Amazing anise pasta. February 12, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s snowing, freezing, and generally miserable here, and I say, that calls for comfort food. As faithful readers know, I like pasta, and I like to create my own recipes. While I was trying to stock up on staples before our latest snowstorm, I saw that the grocery had penne pasta—the first time I’d seen it around here—and better yet, it had a ten packages for $10 deal on all its store-brand pasta!

All righty then. Since it seems like I can’t train myself out of an over-the-arm basket carrier (our friend Ben, by contrast, insists on grocery carts, more power to him), I only got two boxes, one of penne and one of spaghetti. Once home, I checked out the penne-making options, using produce and other ingredients we already had on hand.

Seeing that I had a pint of light cream and a package of fresh basil gave me an idea. I had both fresh baby bella and button mushrooms. Normally, penne pasta would have inspired me to make a baked pasta casserole with tomato sauce, mushrooms and onions, and lots of mozzarella. But if you’ve been reading our blog recently, you’ll know that something unfortunate has befallen our venerable Caloric gas stove and it’s now exceptionally difficult to fire up the oven. While we wait for repairs, I think it’s a better idea to see what we can do on top of the stove.

Now basil, as you know, has a strong licorice/anise flavor that I thought might work well with the mushrooms, penne, and cream. But why stop there? As it happens, I had a fennel bulb, also anise-flavored, and a bottle of Sambuca liqueur (also anise/licorice flavored) in the liquor cabinet. So why not make a sauce that combined the earthiness of the mushrooms and the creaminess of the cream and butter with the anise accents of the basil, fennel bulb, and Sambuca? Go for it, I say. This is what I made:

              Amazing Anise Pasta

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or 1015 type), diced

small (8-ounce) box baby bella mushrooms, sliced

large (16-ounce) box button mushrooms, sliced

half a large fennel bulb (or a whole small fennel bulb), diced

bunch fresh basil leaves, minced (about 10 very large leaves)

1/2 stick butter or more as needed for sauteing

1 pint light cream

1 carton veggie stock (any brand)

1/4 cup or 1 small bottle Sambuca

Trocomare, RealSalt, or salt

lemon pepper

box penne pasta

Bring a large pot (such as a stock pot) of water to a full boil, then cover it and turn off the heat. Saute onion in melted butter in a heavy Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset) or other large, heavy saucepan with Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) and lemon pepper to taste. (Use cracked black pepper and a splash of lemon juice if you don’t have lemon pepper.) Once onions clarify, add mushrooms and fennel and cook, adding a little veggie stock as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan, until the mushrooms cook down. (I would have added shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, or any others to the mix if I had had them on hand, and certainly don’t think more mushrooms would hurt. Like all pasta sauces, this one is very forgiving.) Add minced basil and half the pint of cream and stir well. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to thicken, adding more cream as needed and stirring frequently. Your goal is a very thick, silky sauce that will coat the pasta without being at all runny.

And speaking of the pasta, when you think the sauce is almost there, return the water to a full boil and pour the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente or your preferred degree of doneness (not too soft, though, please; it has to stand up to the mushrooms and fennel). Once you’ve added the pasta to the water, pour the Sambuca in a circle around the top of the sauce and stir it in. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings, drain the pasta thoroughly, pour the sauce over the penne and mix it in well so the pasta is thoroughly coated with sauce, and serve with a huge tossed salad.

Because this is a rich dish, I’d use full-bodied greens like Romaine, curly endive, arugula and radicchio in the salad, perhaps with a softer type like butter or Boston lettuce, and add red bell pepper, scallions (green onions), the rest of the fennel bulb (shredded like coleslaw) to echo the flavor of the pasta, and some shaved Parmesan. I’d serve it with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and, of course, a sprinkling of salt.

Note to all you meat eaters out there: Knowing how well baked chicken breasts pair with mushrooms and fennel seeds, you might want to try this with chicken. Just bear in mind that if you add the baked chicken directly to the sauce as opposed to serving whole breasts and using the pasta as a side dish, you’ll need to add more cream and veggie (or chicken) stock to cover it.

I hope you enjoy my latest creation! If you try it, please tell me what you think.

‘Til next time,