Ricotta Pasta with Fennel
Ricotta pasta is ideal for cold winter days when you're in need of good comfort food. Ricotta is very mild, so I boosted the flavor with parmesan cheese and braised fennel. For extra protein, I added white beans and pine nuts. You can use any shaped pasta, but I happened to have some trottole pasta in the pantry so I went with that. I find the shape so cute; they are corkscrew curled rings with a center stalk.
I usually make this dish with mascarpone, but after all the decadent holiday treats we've been eating, I was in the mood for something light. Even though the pasta isn't bathed in cream, it's not lacking in flavor.
Yields: 6 servings1 (16-ounce) package pasta (I used trottole pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 fennel bulb
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional), ground to a fine powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup half and half (see tips)
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans, drained
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
2/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Dry toasted pine nuts:
Lightly dry toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium high heat until slighted golden. You have to be very careful; otherwise the pine nuts could burn easily. Transfer to a plate.
Prepping the lemon (I used a Meyer lemon):
Zest and juice the lemon. Set them aside, separately.
Quick braised fennel:
Discard the stalk of the fennel bulb (or keep for garnish) and thinly slice the bulb (see tips).
In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions. When the color is translucent. Add the sliced fennel bulb and stir-fry. Cook until slightly browned for 2-3 minutes. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of mushroom seasoning salt. Add about 1/3 cup of water. Toss by shaking the pan for about 3-5 minutes. Add the cayenne pepper and ground fennel. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with a tablespoon of lemon juice. Set aside.
For the trottole pasta:
Bring about 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil and immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. That way the pasta is cooked all the way through evenly. Cook the pasta for about 10-12 minutes total. Salt (with 1/2 teaspoon) the water half-way through the cooking process (it will bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and the pasta will be more tender) and keep stirring every now and then so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. It may take longer than the cooking time that's written on the box. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), transfer it to a large flat platter (you can also skip this step and directly transfer the pasta to the sauté pan).
In a large sauté pan or a large wok, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden. Add the trottole pasta and butter. Toss the pasta by shaking the pan for about 2-3 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of mushroom seasoning salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Spread the ricotta cheese uniformly over the pasta and add the half and half, lemon zest and remaining lemon juice. Toss for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the braised fennel and white beans. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of dill and parmesan cheese. Cover and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a large serving platter. Add the pine nuts and garnish with the remaining dill.
You can use any other vegetables that are in season, such as broccoli, squash, cauliflower or even green peas.
For the fennel bulb: Cut about ¼-inch thick slices with a mandoline. I just found a very sharp one at a Korean store that is very inexpensive compared to the ones you find online. Or if you don't own one, you can use a sharp chef's knife.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the sauce. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive, Cupertino, CA 95014.
For a healthier version, you can substitute pasta water for the half and half, use part skim ricotta cheese and only use olive oil but no butter.
I added parmesan cheese for a subtle saltiness. You can add soy bacon bits as well for a stronger flavor.
I used regular cow's ricotta cheese for this recipe but if you like a stronger flavor, don't hesitate to use goat ricotta cheese. As you may have noticed, I'm a huge fan of this variety of cheese.
For more recipes using fennel, click on the link.
Published By: on December 18, 2009.