Tag Archives: fennel

Creamy Whole Wheat Pasta with Smoked Salmon & Chives

7 Feb

Smoked salmon has become a bit of a staple in our house. Aside from being one of my favorite brunch foods (eaten on a toasted Montreal bagel with cream cheese, lemon & capers, of course) it’s a great ingredient to keep on hand in your freezer for a really quick weeknight meal.

We usually default to this quickly assembled dinner, but last week we thought we’d try something a little different but equally fast and simple.

We made this pasta up as we went along, grabbing a handful of ingredients that felt like obvious companions to the smoked salmon. The soft, salty/smoky salmon worked so nicely with the slight tang of the Dijon, the sweetness of the caramelized fennel and shallot, and the fresh hint of onion from the chives. The nuttiness of the whole wheat pasta really made a difference, too.

I usually squirm when Neil suggests adding cream to a dish we cook at home, since I’ve been conditioned to think that cream sauces are evil and will go directly to my thighs without being ‘worth it’. But as Neil pointed out, a little goes a long way in this pasta. You don’t need to create a full-on sauce, dousing the pasta in cream. Just use enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan, and you won’t be riddled with the kind of guilt that the likes of fettuccini alfredo inevitably leave behind. 

Creamy Whole Wheat Pasta with Smoked Salmon & Chives 

Whole wheat pasta, cooked al dente and strained

1 pkg smoked salmon, chopped into small bite sized pieces

2 shallots, chopped

Half a bulb of fennel, chopped

Handful of fresh chives, chopped

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Approx ½ cup half-and-half cream

Splash of white wine

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Sauté fennel and shallot until they’re soft and caramelized. Season with salt and pepper. 

Add some white wine and cook for another few minutes. Mix in the Dijon mustard and half of your chopped chives, keeping the rest to garnish.

Reduce the heat to low, add in the cream and mix. To be honest, we eyeballed the cream (with me on the sidelines reminding Neil not to add too much!) but probably ended up with just about a half a cup. Enough to coat the pasta but the goal is not to create a full-blown sauce. Make sure you’re heat is down on low so the cream doesn’t curdle.

Add in your cooked pasta while it’s still warm. Toss in the pan to coat the pasta evenly with the sauce. Add in the smoked salmon at the last minute – you don’t want to cook it but you want to incorporate it. 

Serve sprinkled with the rest of the chives. We drizzled our plates with some lemon-infused olive oil, but a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice would be perfect too. 

Pasta with Seared Tuna & Fennel Rub: A New Take on an Old Classic

5 Feb

I have learned so much about cooking from Neil’s family. They’re all amazing cooks who aren’t afraid to try something new. But I’ve really taken a lot of inspiration from the Italian side of his family and their simple and classic dishes.

One of the dishes that Neil was raised on was his dad’s quick and easy tuna pasta. He still makes it now and whenever I have it I always think “how did he make something so simple taste this good?”

His classic version consists basically of long pasta noodles (like spagettini), a can of tuna packed in oil, lots of garlic, olive oil, hot peppers or chili flakes and rapini or broccolini. It was a staple of Neil’s childhood and something that we now crave together and are sometimes lucky enough to have made for us.

My newfangled version came to be when my sister and her boyfriend were coming over for dinner. I knew that my sister hated canned tuna but happened to love fresh seared tuna steak. She has champagne taste, that girl.

So I decided to make a tuna pasta but using fresh tuna instead of canned. I knew I needed a rub of some sort and the first spice that I could think to use was fennel seed. Fennel is a great compliment to fish and I figured it would work well in this dish.

I had never toasted fennel seed myself but tested it out for this recipe and my kitchen was immediately warmed by the scent of toasting fennel. It’s so fragrant and lovely.

The first time I made it, I used a coffee grinder to grind up the spices but we recently got a good mortar and pestle (a kitchen tool that we should have owned ages ago) and I really like how the rub came out using it.

This pasta dish takes everything that’s great about the classic version and brings it up a notch. And it’s really not that hard to make. It’s another one of those meals that looks like it should have been hard, but comes together in a snap. Just get organized, chop and set up all your ingredients beforehand and it’ll be a breeze.

Pasta with Seared Tuna & Fennel Rub

1 box of your favorite long pasta (I used quinoa pasta this time around, a perfect substitute for the real thing)

1-2 tuna steaks (use very fresh, sushi-grade tuna, 1 steak per 2 people)

Olive oil

1 Tbsp whole fennel seeds

1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns (* we used 1 Tbsp because we like spice, but cut it back to ½ Tbsp if you’re more conservative with spice)

1 tsp sea salt

Zest of half a large lemon

1 bunch broccolini or rapini, roughly chopped into thirds

Red chili flakes

1 large clove of garlic, chopped

1 large shallot, chopped

¼ tsp anchovy paste (or more, to taste)

Mix the freshly grated lemon zest with the sea salt and set aside.

In a small pan, toast the fennel seeds and peppercorns on medium low heat for about 3-4 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Keep them moving in the pan with a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and put them right into a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Grind into a fine powder.

In a bowl, mix the fennel and pepper powder with about half the amount of lemon salt. Set the rest of the lemon salt aside for garnish.

Lightly brush some olive oil onto each side of the tuna steaks and then coat both sides with the fennel, pepper & lemon salt rub.

Lightly oil a large sauté pan and set on medium-high heat. Give it a few minutes to really heat up. Sear tuna steaks for a few minutes on each side, making sure not to overcook. You want a nice crust on the outside and a rare middle. You’re going to add the tuna back into the hot pan later on where it’ll cook a bit more so keep it on the rare side.

When the tuna is done, remove from heat and cut into thin slices or small chunks. Set aside.

Boil your pasta water (with salt!) and get your pasta cooking.

Using the same sauté pan that you used to sear the tuna, add a good amount of olive oil and return to a medium heat. Add in garlic and shallot and sauté for approximately 3 minutes.

Add the broccolini or rapini and sauté for a few minutes. We used broccolini and added about ¼ cup of water into the pan to help it steam and cook but Neil thinks rapini wouldn’t require as much water because it’ll wilt on its own. Use your judgment. You don’t want liquid in the pan, you just want to get the broccolini a bit wet and it’ll absorb the water as it cooks. It also helps loosen the bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add in chili flakes and anchovy paste and mix.

When the pasta is ready, strain and add directly into the pan with the broccolini mixture. Drizzle good quality olive oil overtop and mix well.

Add the tuna into the pan and toss with the pasta.

Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle the rest of the lemon salt overtop. Serve hot.

You can serve this pasta with some freshly grated parmesan cheese, even though it’s not traditional to put cheese on top of a fish-based pasta. Clearly though, we’re not averse to breaking tradition.

Thanks to my fabulous sister Jayme for being the driving force behind the creation of this recipe!

Weeknight Comfort Food: Eggs in Tomato Sauce

28 Nov

Eggs poached in homemade Italian tomato sauce

When Neil and I first met, we both brought some of our own food traditions into our relationship. And with Neil’s half-Italian background (and the fact that both of his parents are amazing cooks) there were a lot of delicious and simple classic Italian recipes and techniques that he brought along with him – the most important being homemade tomato sauce.

I’m not talking about some secret family recipe that takes slaving over for hours. The tomato sauce that Neil taught me to make from scratch is so simple, easy and quick that I can’t believe I ever used to buy prepared jarred sauce (and I never will, ever again!).

Of course we sometimes alter the recipe, but the basic ingredients are always there; olive oil, fennel, shallot, strained Italian tomatoes, basil. The fennel is essential to the sauce because it adds sweetness and richness. And this simple sauce is the base for one of our favorite comfort food meals: Eggs in tomato sauce.

Neil’s dad used to make this dish for him when he was a kid and I know that it’s a recipe we’ll keep making forever and pass on to our family. We make it all year long, but it’s a weeknight staple when the weather turns cold. It’s everything I crave on a chilly, wintery night.

We used to make a simple sauce with eggs poached inside and eat it all with crusty bread. But eventually, as we evolved the recipe, we started adding vegetables and sweet potatoes and now it’s become a satisfying and full meal (no bread needed, though it’s always a bonus treat and handy to sop up all that leftover sauce in the bowl!).

There’s a similar Middle Eastern dish called Shakshuka where the idea is the same but the spices used are much stronger and the flavors are completely different. Neil and I can’t seem to stray from this version though, where the Mediterranean flavors are so fresh and simple. It may look like you’re eating a big bowl of plain old sauce, but this dish is really more like a stew. It’s rich, savory, a little sweet, layered with flavor and so comforting.

The eggs take more or less time depending on how you like them cooked. Neil likes his a little runny so he can mix the yolk into the sauce for added richness. I like mine cooked a little more so that the yolk is just to the point of holding solid and a little gelatinous but not hard. You can usually tell by looking at them and touching them lightly with a spoon.

Eggs in Tomato Sauce


Olive oil

Fennel, about half a bulb cut into small pieces with the fronds reserved

1 large shallot (or half an onion), chopped into small pieces

1 bottle (or jar) of strained Italian tomatoes (*note: the ingredients in your tomatoes should be tomatoes and salt or just tomatoes – as pure as possible)

A handful of basil, chopped

Balsamic vinegar


1 Sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1 Yellow pepper, cubed

Broccoli, cut into pieces (we use pieces of the stem cut into rounds)

* note: You can add any veggies you like or omit them completely. But either way, you need to make the basic sauce with the fennel and shallot as a base.

Eggs (we usually make 4 and eat 2 each)

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Salt and pepper

Heat a good amount of olive oil in a deep pot and add fennel (with fronds) and shallots. Add some salt and sauté on medium heat for a good 8-10 minutes to bring out the sweetness.

Add the sweet potato and cook for a few more minutes. Add the peppers and broccoli and cook for another minute or two.

Add the entire bottle of tomatoes and a little bit of water (I add a bit of water to the bottle and swish it around to get every last bit of tomato).

We use different brands but always pure strained tomatoes in the bottle

Add the basil and some salt and pepper and mix well. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar for flavour and to ensure that the eggs poach properly.

Bring the sauce to a boil then cover, reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer. Simmer the sauce for a minimum of 15 minutes to let the flavors come together. At that point, you can keep simmering to deepen the flavors or (if you’re really hungry) you can move on to the eggs. Taste the sauce before adding in the eggs and make sure you’re happy with the amount of salt and vinegar.

Turn the heat to low. I always crack my eggs into a small bowl and then slide them into the sauce from there. And I sort of carve out little trenches in the pot for each egg to sit and cook without interfering with each other.

Cover the pot and cook on low heat for approximately 10-15 minutes, making sure to check on them every few minutes to see how they’re cooking. Once the whites turn solid it’s just a matter of how you prefer the yolks to be cooked. I usually try to take Neil’s out first so they’re gooey and runny and leave mine for longer so they’re a little more solid and gelatinous.

Using a soup spoon or ladle, transfer the eggs to big bowls and surround them with heaping amounts of sauce and veg.

Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and more salt and pepper, to taste.

Cozy up and enjoy with a big spoon, crusty bread if you’re so inclined, and perhaps even a glass of red…

This may seem like a hassle but I promise you, it takes hardly any effort once you get going and it’s so worth it. You’ll definitely have leftover sauce which you can use the next day mixed into pasta or even just on its own. I threw a can of kidney beans into my leftover sauce and ate it cold for lunch. Molto bene.

Quinoa with Fennel, Olive and Citrus

20 Oct

Quinoa is one of my favorite foods and I’m always looking for new ways to spruce it up. I came up with this dish based on a salad I quickly threw together a few weeks ago with tomato, orange and olives drizzled with olive oil and salt. We ate the salad with some sautéed fennel and a piece of salmon and the combination of flavors on the plate were perfect.

Fennel is delicious no matter how you eat it, but something magical happens when you cook it down in a little bit of olive oil and really let it get soft and sweet. It becomes rich and almost creamy and full of flavor.

Neil has been adding a touch of fennel pollen to our sautéed fennel these days, and it really helps add depth to the flavor. You can find it at specialty food stores or spice markets. We bought one little jar of fennel pollen a long time ago and it’s lasted a long time because you really only need a little to make a big impact. It’s very pungent and powerful stuff but it’s so good that I don’t know how our kitchen could ever be without it. Neil’s dad actually adds a touch of Sambuca to his fennel when he sautés it (cooking off the alcohol but keeping the licorice-ey flavor), which gives a similar effect and is also delicious.

To make this quinoa salad, I pulled together the flavors from the olive salad and the sautéed fennel, and decided that some toasted almonds would be the perfect addition to bring it all together. In my opinion, they made the dish. I was so happy with the way this turned out. It was savory and a little sweet, salty and crunchy. You can serve this hot or cold, but I preferred it cold served as a salad. It makes a perfectly balanced and filling lunch or a great side dish.

Quinoa with fennel, olive and citrus

1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa * Make sure to rinse your quinoa very well in warm water before cooking it. Rinsing it takes away the strange bitter flavor and leaves you with a clean-tasting quinoa

Cherry tomatoes, halved

1-2 Oranges, segmented and chopped

Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (I think any variety of olive would work well in this, even green ones)

1 head of Fennel, chopped into small bite-size pieces – keep the fennel fronds (the gorgeous stringy bits that come out of the head of the vegetable)

Fennel Pollen

A bunch of slivered almonds, toasted and cooled (I toast mine quickly in a pan on medium heat, constantly stirring them until they smell toasty and turn a nice light brown)

Lemon Juice

Apple Cider Vinegar or Rice Wine Vinegar

Good Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Heat a good amount of olive oil in a pan and add the chopped fennel. Sautee for about 5-10 minutes, until the fennel gets very soft and caramelized. You can add a bit of water or white wine and cook it off to help the fennel soften. Add some salt as it’s cooking. Once it’s cooked down and soft, sprinkle with some fennel pollen, mix and let cool.

Once your cooked quinoa has cooled, add the tomatoes, orange segments, olive pieces and toasted almond slivers. Add in the cooled fennel.

Drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add a bit of apple cider or rice wine vinegar (to taste, really) and some coarsely ground sea salt. Add a bunch of fennel fronds to top it off – they add a hit of bright green and some extra fennel-ey flavor.

C’est tout! You can refrigerate to let the flavors come together and serve cold. It actually tastes even better after a day in the fridge.

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