Fennel, chilli and olive pasta

Show ingredients

Vegetarian mains

Fennel, chilli and olive pasta

Main Serves 2 35 min
The light aniseed taste of fennel, which mellows with cooking, is a perfect partner for the sweet acidity of the tomatoes. Tomato's classic bedfellow, basil, has distinct aniseed notes in its flavour profile, too. The ground fennel is there to boost the aniseed flavour but, if you like that liquorice tang to be benign, then you may want to omit it. It can elicit a love-it or hate-it response in people.

Cook's notes

Be cautious with the seasoning of this dish, the olives will bring their own saltiness with them so adjust the seasoning at the very end of cooking.


  • 1 large or 2 small onions
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • light olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 chilli
  • 60g black olives
  • 1 tsp ground fennel
  • 100ml white wine
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 200g penne pasta
  • 1 lemon
  • 25g Italian style cheese
  • salt and pepper


Prep time: 10 min
Cooking time: 25 min
  • Step 1

    Peel and slice the onion(s). Trim away the stalk tops from the fennel. Cut the bulb in half and remove the root core with a couple of v-shaped cuts. Thinly slice each half lengthways.
  • Step 2

    Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, fennel and a pinch of salt. Fry on a medium heat for 10 minutes until they start to soften and take on a little colour. Meanwhile, peel and chop, or crush, the garlic. Deseed and finely chop the chilli.
  • Step 3

    Slice the olives in half. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Add the garlic, chilli and ground fennel to the onions. Cook for a further 1 minute before adding the white wine. Let it boil and reduce by at least half. Tip the chopped tomatoes and olives into the pan. Fill the empty tomato tin one third full of water and tip that in, too.
  • Step 4

    Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes, until you have a rich thick sauce. When you have 10 minutes left, throw the pasta into the pan of boiling water and cook for 10-12 minutes until just tender. Add 3 tablespoons of pasta water to the sauce to loosen it.
  • Step 5

    Taste and season with more salt and pepper if it needs it. Add a dash of lemon juice to your taste. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan of sauce. Mix well and divide it between 2 bowls. Top it with the cheese to serve.

You may also like…