Pasta with Grilled Fennel-Tomato Sauce

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Grill 

I seem to be on a bit of a vegetarian pasta kick lately. This version makes terrific use of the grill to create tender, almost caramelized vegetables for the flavorful sauce. There is a little extra work in grilling each of the vegetable components separately, but the result is worth the extra effort.

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 large garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 leek (white part only), thinly sliced
  • 1 pound plum tomatoes, halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound short pasta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

  • Heat a grill over medium direct heat.
  • Combine 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the pressed garlic cloves in a small bowl. Set aside, allowing the flavor to intensify while you prepare the vegetables.
  • Trim the fennel bulb, reserving a few tablespoons of the fronds for garnish. Cut the core from the fennel bulb, then thinly slice it. Set it in a bowl.
  • Place the leeks in a small bowl with water. Allow them to soak for a few minutes to loosen any sand or dirt, using your fingers to gently separate the rings. Drain the water and set aside.
  • Place the tomatoes with the cut side facing up on a grill rack. Brush the cut side with the olive oil-garlic mixture, then sprinkle generously with kosher salt and pepper. Turn the tomatoes over so the cut side is down for grilling. Grill the tomatoes until softened and lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Do not turn them.
  • While the tomatoes are grilling, distribute the remaining olive oil-garlic mixture over the fennel and leeks. Toss each separately in their respective bowls, then add salt and pepper.
  • When the tomatoes are done, remove them from the grill and set on a cutting board to cool slightly. Once they are cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to chop them roughly. Place the tomatoes and any accumulated juices in a large bowl.
  • At this time, bring a large pot of generously salted water (1 tablespoon kosher salt to 3 quarts water) to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente. Just before draining, scoop up about 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water and reserve for the sauce. Drain and set aside.
  • Transfer the fennel to the grill rack and grill, tossing a few times, for about 6 minutes. They should be nicely browned and soft. Remove from the grill and toss into the bowl with the tomatoes. Finally, transfer the leeks to the grill rack and grill for about 4 minutes. Remove from the grill and add to the tomatoes and fennel.
  • Add the cooked pasta back to the pot and gently stir in the grilled vegetable mixture, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and a little of the reserved pasta water. Add the cheese, then stir again until well-combined. Use the remaining starchy water to thin the sauce if necessary. Serve hot topped with the fennel fronds and additional grated cheese on the side.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6


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