It has taken me a long time to break down some of my biases. I will not lie: I am quick to judge. So when I first tasted fennel, I spit it out and did not look back for a while. I hate anise so why in the world would I ever grow to like fennel? But then, something not entirely uncommon happened: I started seeing fennel everywhere. It was like it was trying to weasel its way into my life by attaching itself to the things I love: Italy, pizza, aromatic stews, roast chicken, pickled anything, leeks. I started to wonder if the first time I had tasted fennel was entirely inaccurate?
And so, I did something I don’t usually do: I gave fennel another chance–and I have not looked back. Granted, there are some modes of preparation that still turn me off (I still don’t like the entirely overpowering taste that can sometimes come out when it is cooked on a skillet) but simmered with companions like sweet leeks, aromatic lemon and oceany mussels, as it is in the beautiful pasta–it is absolutely understated and divine.
In fact, I’ve been finding that fennel is a supreme addition to pastas–something about its unique flavor profile befits a nutty light wheat pasta and pairs phenomenally well with seafood (in this case, mussels). This is a pasta I could eat every day (If I allowed myself). It feels light–despite packing the carbs. It’s equally as pleasant in the summer as it is in the Fall. If you love leeks, this is a winner, too, as they add a sweet touch to a dish that is as simple as could be and–provided you already have some homemade pasta on hand–comes together in a cinch.
I should note that lately, every time I make pasta at home, it tends to be homemade. Ever since Matt got me a pasta roller and cutter attachment for my KitchenAid, we’ve both pretty much been obsessed. Seriously, I’ve heard many, many Italians and enthusiastic non-Italians alike tell me for years that nothing compares to homemade pasta and I have to say that I’ve crossed the divide. We’ve experimented with egg noodles as well as light whole wheat ones (we’ve had one catastrophic disaster–surprisingly on our fifth or sixth try!). But otherwise, we whip up a big batch, cook some up the night of and freeze the rest for later. This particular pasta was inspired by a spur-of-the-moment stop at an oyster farm on the way home from a camping trip. We picked up a bagful of the HUGEST mussels I have ever seen. As you can imagine, the plumper, fresher the mussels, the better the pasta. Happy September!
This homemade spaghetti with mussels, leeks, fennel and lemon is so amazingly “on”. When we prepared it, we used fresh mussels we had bought from an oyster farm along the Pacific, fresh fennel and homemade spaghetti. It was mesmerizingly tasty, and just felt so hip and modern and delicious. This dish features beautifully unique textures, intricate flavors, and a visually appealing presentation. That is why I’m pairing it with one of my favorite albums of the past few years: Los Angeles by Flying Lotus’ (a.k.a. FlyLo, a.k.a. Steven Ellison). Los Angeles artfully manages to encompass both the good and bad of the city it borrows its name from: it is simultaneously clean and grimy, safe and dangerous, conventional and experimental – but like city of Los Angeles – the album is also always modern, always viscerally textural and always exciting. More at Musical Pairings. –Matthew