Do you have a back pocket pasta recipe? You know, one that’s easy to pull off for a weeknight dinner when your meal planning efforts fail, but pleases everyone in your house? With the arrival of spring and carbo-loading for the half marathon in full effect, I may have just discovered my new favorite back pocket pasta recipe featuring caramelized fennel, tender spinach, bright lemon zest, and creamy goat cheese.
The truth is, this recipe fell into my lap by accident when I mistakenly picked up a bulb of fennel pre-winter storm Stella- the grocery was a mad house and I was blindly grabbing vegetables (I know…I was the only person not just grabbing bread, milk, and eggs) for meal planning. If you’ve never worked with fennel before, don’t be put off by its strong anise, or licorice, flavor. Once thrown into a pan with olive oil, slices of fennel bulb become crispy and sweet and when cooked just right adds the perfect crunchy contrast to a pasta dish. Fennel is also as nutritious as it is tasty, containing plenty of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid.
The key to a back pocket pasta is to work with what you’ve got, so after the fennel I peaked into the fridge and selected some staples- fresh spinach, which I always have to toss into salads and smoothies; crumbled goat cheese, because my fridge is sad without it; and a squeeze of half a leftover lemon. To turn it into a complete meal, add some chickpeas for a protein boost, or take a short cut and use one of the many awesome new legume pastas, such as Banza or Tolerant Foods, found on most grocery shelves today.
Meal planning fail this week? What’s your favorite back pocket pasta recipe?
2 cups whole wheat or legume pasta- any shape will do!
1 fennel bulb, fronds reserved
3 cups baby spinach
juice of 1/2 lemon, plus zest
3 Tbsp goat cheese
salt and pepper
In a large pot, boil water and prepare the pasta until cooked al dente. When finished, rinse under cold water and set aside.
While pasta is cooking, prepare the fennel. Cut off top stems and reserve the wispy fronds to be used as a garnish. Cut the bulb lengthwise in half, from top to bottom, and remove the tough inner core. Lay each half flat-side down on a cutting board and slice bulb into thin strips.
Heat saute pan and add about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add fennel bulb slices and cook for 7-10 minutes. As bottom layer of fennel slices become caramelized, give them a stir so that each piece gets a turn to get browned and crispy. You are looking for the fennel to be browned, not burnt, and cooked, but not soft.
To the pan with the fennel, add the cooked pasta, cups of spinach, squeeze of lemon, and goat cheese. Toss until spinach is wilted and cheese coats the pasta.
To serve, top pasta with lemon zest, a few fennel fronds, and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!