The joy of this dish lies in its simplicity. Poach sliced fennel in milk till it is falling apart, rough it up a little further with a fork, add cream and lots and lots of black pepper and serve mixed into pasta with a sprinkling of Parmesan and finely chopped fronds. No onion, no garlic, no parsley, indeed no herbs at all. Rich, comforting, palely beautiful. Good cold for lunch. A perfect straddle for this uncertain weather. The unalloyed brilliance of Anna del Conte.
Pasta with Fennel & Cream
4 large fennel bulbs
90g unsalted butter
300ml full-fat milk
300ml double cream
90g freshly grated Parmesan
700g penne or shells
Cut off and discard the tops and any wilted or bruised parts of the fennel. Reserve the green feathery leaves and wash and chop them coarsely. Cut the fennel bulbs into quarters and then into wedges about 5mm thick. Wash thoroughly in cold water and dry with kitchen paper.
Heat half the butter in a large heavey sauté pan until ti begins to foam. Add the fennel and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the milk and sprinkle with salt. Reduce the ehat to very low, cover the pan and cook until the fennel is tender, about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add a little jhot water if the fennel gets too dry.
When the fennel is very tender break it up with a fork to make a coarse purée. Stir in the cream and season with lots of black pepper. Cook over a very gentle heat for 32 minutes, stirring very often, then blend in half the Parmesan. Cover the pan and set aside off the heat.
Meanwhile cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until done. Drain, then immediately return it to the pan in which it was cooked. Toss with the remaining butter and with the sauce.
Serve at once sprinkled with the reserved fennel fronds and the rest of the Parmesan on the side.