Now that I’ve graduated, I find myself in that not-so-fun purgatory of the Job Search. I can’t imagine anything more tedious, frustrating, or disheartening in the entire first world. Especially right now in France when the unemployment rate is 12.5% and climbing. Often, I want to put more than just a cake in the oven: then I remember my oven is not gas, and did that ever work for anyone, anywhere, anyway?
So the next best thing is comfort food.
I’ve already waxed not-so-poetic on comfort food before. It’s as simple as macaroni and cheese or homemade garlic mashed potatoes. One of my favorite comfort foods is pasta with tomato sauce and lots of garlic. It’s easy, it’s adaptable and as I find myself with more than enough time on my hands these days, it’s also fun to dress up.
Like my cats, I need to knead something in order to reassure myself that all is right with the world, even when it isn’t because someone just turned the vacuum cleaner on. (The vacuum here would be the job search) There’s nothing more satisfying in my mind than sticking my hands in some dough. It doesn’t matter what kind of dough: cookie, brioche, pasta, bread. If I can roll it in my palms and press it into a “floured surface” I’m happy. At least for the time being.
So with lots of time, the need to knead,and a craving for comfort food, I turned to homemade pasta which I wish I had the patience to make all the time because the boxed stuff just doesn’t compare.
Recently, I came across Lemon and Anchovies recipe for pasta with braised fennel, chicken sausage, and tomatoes. It’s a mix of seasons: I’ve always considered fennel an autumn vegetable – though correct me if I’m wrong – and tomatoes are a summer thing. I like mixing seasons, especially now when the weather is still caught between summer and autumn despite the calendar being well into October.
Though she gets full credit for the idea, I wasn’t interested in following her recipe exactly. For one thing, chicken sausage? If I went to the butcher and asked for that he’d come back with “What’s wrong with pork?” and for another, I really wanted to try a sauce.
I’m not sure if I would call the sauce a success or not. It didn’t really look like a sauce and wound up more like a marinade. But when I poured it over the pasta, it was soaked right up and the spaghetti took on great, tangy and smokey flavor, light enough that it didn’t cover the flavor of the homemade noodles. So it’s not what I wanted, but it turned out a success in other ways.
The fennel added a licorice sweetness, tempering the acidity of the sauce and adding an extra layer of flavor. This dish wasn’t just pasta and tomato sauce any more.
With it, I drank a Malbec AOC Touraine from the Loire. It was recommended to me by my new favorite caviste in Toulon when I asked him for something different to discover. I had no idea Touraine grows Malbec grapes, though I’ve had more than a few bottles of the Bordeaux version. This was velvety with a deep, rich nose of black fruits. Again black fruit hit you with the attack, the developed into a bit of black pepper and spices – typical Loire – and then ended with smooth tobacco and leather flavors. I was worried it wouldn’t pair well with the pasta – tomato sauce and red wine are near impossible to match. It wasn’t the most orthodox pairing in the world, but it handled the acidity of the tomatoes and smokey sausage without losing its own flavors.
Making pasta and sauce takes time. Eating it takes less. But both provided a comfort for this wandering soul for an evening.
Homemade Pasta with Tomato, Sausage, and Fennel
serves 2 prep time: 60 min cook time: 60 min adapted from Lemons and Anchovies For the pasta:
- 75g white, all purpose flour
- 75g fine semolina
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp olive oil
For the rest:
- 4 large tomatoes, peeled
- 1 small carrot, peeled and sliced thin
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 smoked sausage, I used pork, but she used chicken – either is fine.
- 1 fennel bulb
- olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
For the pasta:
In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flours and salt. Beat the egg and olive oil in a small cup or bowl. Dump the flour onto your work surface and make a small mound. Make a well in the center and pour in the egg and olive oil. Very slowly incorporate the flour into the egg a little at a time and try not to break the walls of your egg-flour-volcano. It’s ok if you do, the egg just runs everywhere.
Once all the egg is incorporated you may have a shaggy, crumbly bowl. Add just a tiny bit of water – maybe one teaspoon – and work that into the flour. Keep doing this until you have a firm but moist dough that is no longer crumbling. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Alternatively you can do this step way in advance, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Take it out about one hour before so that it reaches room temperature again before working with it.
Roll the pasta out on a floured surface as thin as you possibly can. Keep rolling and flipping and rolling and flipping. If you’re doing this without a pasta roller – I applaud you. Otherwise, at around setting 4 or 5 you can start cutting it to the size you want. I chose spaghetti because it was a change from tagliatelle.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and boil the pasta for about a minute or two – until al dente. Drain and serve.
For the fennel:
Preheat oven 220°C/420°F. Wash, trim and slice your fennel. I like to slice it into ½ inch slices like an onion. Put into an oven baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes until soft and toasty.
For the sauce:
Prepare all vegetables in advance. In regards to the tomatoes, cut them into quarters and squeeze out the seeds over a strainer, making sure you save the juice for the sauce. Line the bottom of a medium pot with a bit of olive oil. Heat oil and add the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the carrots and turn down the heat to about medium-low. Let everything sauté for about 5 – 10 minutes and then add the tomatoes, juice, some salt and pepper and thyme.
Turn the heat down to low and mash the tomatoes as much as possible with a potato masher or meat tenderizer (as long as it’s not metal). Let everything simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. You can do this step while doing everything else
Boil the sausage for about 15 minutes or until done – this will depend on the size of the sausage. 15 minutes would be for a Toulouse sausage. Drain and cut into chucks, we cut ours into half-moons and add to the sauce towards the last ten minutes of simmering. Serve over pasta with fennel.