Saturday, April 05, 2008

 

Aubergine and Fennel Seed Fettuccine

Sometimes being in between seasons is a bother. Do you carry an umbrella on a day that appears to be sunny? Do you leave behind a sweater because it might not be that cold? Do you risk going outdoors at all? Being in a liminal space such as this forces one to second guess. The same applies to cooking at these times of the year. I had one last, good Summer aubergine on hand, but I didn't want baba ghanouj or a smoky aubergine with barbecued meat...I decided to take the best of the Summer and combine it it with something that hints at the colder climes: a touch of cream.

I suppose today's offering is not only a "changing seasons" dish but is one that builds on the notion of compromise, for it marries northern and southern Italian ingredients - well, in my canvas of broad strokes it does.

Aubergine is very popular in Sicilian cooking, where it is used to carry and not compete with the salty and sweet combinations for which the glorious island of volcanic rock is famous: capers, chilis, vinegar, marsala...Aubergine is a recognised ingredient largely because of the international popularity of the Sicilian dishes: pasta alla Norma, a combination of aubergine, ricotta, tomatoes, basil and preferably either of these two pastas maccheroni or paccheri - the dish is named after the grandest work of Sicilian composer Bellini, Norma; and caponata, a fiery relish of fried aubergine and peppers mixed with celery, capers and olives bound with a bittersweet sauce of vinegar and sugar. What I largely associate with southern Italian preparations of pasta are tomatoes. And while tomatoes are also used in northern pastas, I tend to be lulled by the creaminess of their pasta dishes more than anything else - made so usually on account of cheese or cream itself.

Today is one of those grey but not cold days, where there is an autumnal chill in the air, enough of one to make you put on an extra layer, but it is not so cold that you're pining for stew and wearing two pairs of socks. A marriage of summery aubergine and a touch of comforting cream. (And I am sure by now, but especially following my post from 1 March, 2008, you know that fettuccine is my favourite pasta - you use whichever long pasta you prefer.) In the interest of meeting halfway, the hinge of all good and long-lasting relationships, I've added fennel seeds and fronds, which are popular in Roman cooking - the best fennel, itself, is purportedly from Florence, but that is only a minor detail of - remember? - generalisations.

The following recipe can serve four. As is typical of most of my recipes, I give you the steps in the order that I do things, so that the ingredients come together at once, which is easy if this is all you're preparing, which would be more than adequate for lunch.

Aubergine and Fennel Seed Fettuccine

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
500g/16oz aubergine, cut into bite-size pieces
salt & pepper
150ml/5fl. oz cream/heavy cream
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons fennel fronds, chopped
350g/12oz fettuccine
extra parmesan (prepared with a vegetable peeler) and fennel fronds (chopped)

1) Boil water that is heavily seasoned with salt in a large pot.
2) Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add fennel seeds.
3) When the seeds give off an aroma, add the rest of the olive oil and the aubergine pieces. Toss together and cook until aubergine is very soft - 10 to 15 minutes.
4) In the meantime, the water should be boiling, so add pasta to the water. Follow the instructions of the pasta your purchase, if you do not make it yourself, as to when your chosen pasta should be al dente, or to your liking if you prefer it without the slightest resistance.
5) Season aubergine with salt and pepper.
6) Add the cream and parmesan over a very low heat.
7) When the cream bubbles lightly, remove from the heat and add fennel fronds. Stir to combine.
8) By now the pasta should be ready, so drain it in a colander and then add it to the creamy aubergine. Toss together and serve with shavings of parmesan and a scattering of chopped fennel fronds.

Bravissimo!

Well, only if you enjoy the aroma and finish attributed to anethole as I do - fennel, licorice, star anise, sambuca, you name it. Luscious, earthy, smacking of early Autumn in Oceania, this comforts without any gastronomic suffocation. Of course, the perfect match is Sicilian nero d'avola, which is typically medium of body with notes of figs and pepper.

While I eagerly anticipate the Fall bounty to come, I particularly love being caught in-between seasons and blurring boundaries.

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Comments:
We're in between winter and spring just now but the situation is just the same. Winter produce is still abundant but I'm dying to get my hands on spring veg!
Lovely, lovely pasta dish. Will file this one away for later in the year. :)
 
We are on the blurred line of between seasons too, it's Spring here, but this morning came with snow, winds and it's bitterly cold. This is s good pasta to have a foot in both seasons.
 
Hi Sweetie!

This looks absolutely fabulous. I had an armload of long aubergines last week. I did what I usually do with them--roast them off for a side dish. Next time I should keep this in mind.

j
 
What a beautiful dish, especially with the large shavings of parmesan.
 
Shaun, this dish is to swoon for, as rich a sensual luxury as listening to "Casta Diva." Heavy cream and a riot of fennel are soooo right together. I am pining for it.
 
Great looking meal Shaun... I hope you had a couple glasses of the nero d'avola to compliment your meal and take the chill off your bones!!

Cheers...
 
You make the "in-between seasons" stage sound creative and inspirational, which is great to read as I am too often frustrated. (NOW, I want my produce NOW) :). Maybe it's time for a different approach on my part. That, and I'm hideously jealous that you have aubergine. :) It's nice to have blogosphere friends in the other hemisphere -- it reminds me simultaneously to appreciate what I have now (asparagus soon!) and to look forward to what you are experiencing (Autumn is my favorite seasons, hands down).
 
Wendy ~ Yes, I should imagine most non-equatorial people are mid-season now. I recognise the boredom with Winter tubers and the like. It can become repetitive. Things like cavolo nero just don't last all season, but at least there is the great offering of citrus fruit.

Kelly-Jane ~ Indeed it is good to be inbetween seasons, especially when you can use the best of both at the time. That is why this pasta worked so well. It was not quite Autumn yet, but it was cold enough to warrant a little rich, comforting cream.

Jasmine, honey ~ I like the innards from roasted aubergines, too. Such intense smokiness! This pasta worked out well, but aubergine caviar has its shining moment, too.

Sara ~ I know, one can never go wrong with parmesan. It is my favourite cheese when it comes to dressing salads and pastas. I actually prefer asiago when it comes to cooking - even though it has an intense smell and is thus best used for dishes that have strong flavours (like lasagne), it adds such depth to a baked dish.

Susan, lovie ~ Your description alone makes me want to eat it again. I was very happy with how this turned out (I was not about to post another "failure" post so soon, anyway!) and will revisit it. I have seen a few pasta recipes that call for roasted pumpkin, so I might adapt it for that Winter staple.

Bruno ~ You are right, for I sure did have some nero d'avola (my grapes du jour). It went perfectly with this dish, actually. One of my better pairings, giving weight to the terroir adage of "what grows together goes together."

Neen ~ Thank you for stopping by and leaving such a complimentary comment. I love your blog! Most of the blogs that I read are based in the States, so I am constantly hopeful of the weather to come. I get a little impatient when it comes to "the moment" but am getting better at it, hence this post. Autumn is hard to beat, but I especially love it when Autumn and Winter overlap.
 
Beautiful. I've never put cream and eggplant (aubergine) together, but now I can imagine it and want it immediately. Unfortunately, my little eggplant plants are only a couple inches high, so I have to wait. This will definitely be in my too cook file for later in the year.
 
Christine ~ This is easily one of the best pasta dishes I have ever made, but I understand that subjective value here since many people don't care for either eggplant or fennel. It is so great that you're growing aubergine...I will be over in the Summer if you want to whip up something (hint, hint)!
 
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