Can I tell you what I find troubling about cooking with garlic? Yes? Okay here goes:
Nothing. Nothing at all, actually. In fact, I quite enjoy cooking with garlic. Crackling the plump cloves from their papery package, smashing the fat little boats under the side of a knife to remove their stubborn skin, inhaling that rich, spicy smell that intensifies under a flame, the heat bringing out the tender sweetness of the sharp and tangy bulb…
Oh, sorry. What were you going to say? Garlic breath? No big deal. Don’t kiss me. Or, if smooch you must, just have some yourself. Maybe you were going to bring up the way it’s almost impossible to get the garlicky smell out of your hands? Yeah, I’m not really bothered. I try not to go around smelling my hands that often. I figure garlic hands are a small price to pay for something like, oh I don’t know… Uncle Charlie’s Garlicky Fennel Seed Pasta with Kalamata Olives. For example.
Speaking of Uncle Charlie’s Garlicky Fennel Seed Pasta with Kalamata Olives, I happened to have some for dinner last night. I know! Small world.
There are many things I enjoy about Uncle Charlie, including his affinity for historical sites, good wine, maps, baseball, crossword puzzles, European countries and public transportation, and his aversion to “loud” music and most forms of modern day technology, including automobiles and that crazy newfangled device called the cell phone. I also enjoy when he drops by to visit for the weekend from Chicago, or wherever else his job in the airline industry has taken him – Paris, Hamburg, San Francisco, Berlin. He usually brings me things. Things like wine books, knit hats bearing logos of European soccer teams, old maps, macaron cookies from La Duree in Paris. One time he brought me a ginormous beer mug from Oktoberfest in Berlin. It’s huge and ceramic and has a picture of a pretty blond woman in lederhosen painted on the side. I use it as a vase to hold fresh tulips.
Anyway, this weekend happened to be one when Uncle Charlie came to visit. Besides spending time at the bookstore and drinking thick hot chocolate from a place called Burdick in Harvard Square,
Charlie and I made garlicky fennel seed pasta with kalamata olives. It’s his specialty. I’m going to tell you about it because it’s phenomenal, and I fully expect you to want to vigorously shake my hand as a thank you for sharing the recipe. But, please don’t. I’m still a bit under the weather, and hand-shaking encourages germ sharing. Plus my hands smell like garlic.
Charlie first made this dish for me roughly ten years ago, when I was in high school, visiting him in his studio apartment in Chicago for a few days over the summer. To be honest, I didn’t really appreciate it back then – that was before I wised up and started liking olives. I don’t know what I was thinking, really, because Uncle Charlie’s Garlicky Fennel Seed Pasta with Kalamata Olives is delicious. It’s an explosion of spicy and sweet and salty, which is amazing considering how few ingredients are involved. It’s simultaneously chewy and crunchy, and I just love how the pasta is polka dotted with shiny, round, deep purple olives. However, be warned: this dish is possibly addicting. Uncle Charlie claims to have once gotten addicted to it a few years ago, eating it at least three nights a week for weeks on end. Which really would be fine by me.
As I mentioned, there are very few ingredients involved in this dish, so make sure you buy the best quality olives and cheese you can find. You can find fennel seed in the spice section of most supermarkets. If you’re vehemently anti-pits, you could use pitted kalamata olives instead of regular whole ones, but I sometimes find the pitted versions a bit mushy and overly salty with brine.
6-7 large cloves of garlic, chopped into thin round slivers
1.5 Tbsp fennel seeds, roughly crushed (with a mortar & pestle or in a food processor)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more, if you want to go for extra spicy)
1-2 cups fresh kalamata olives, rinsed of excess brine
1 pound dry penne pasta
juice from 1/2 lemon
A good hunk of parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Add the penne to a pot of salted boiling water, and let cook for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice up your garlic and crush your fennel seed. When the pasta is almost done cooking, coat the bottom of a large, deep skillet or dutch oven with olive oil, and place over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic slices and fry gently until the slices start to turn light brown, about a minute or two. If the garlic is browning too quickly, lower the heat accordingly – do not burn the garlic. Add the red pepper flakes and crushed fennel seeds and let cook, stirring, for about a minute. Stir in the olives and splash of lemon juice.
Drain the pasta and add it to the garlic skillet. Stir the mixture so the pasta becomes coated in olive oil, pepper, garlic and fennel seeds. If the mixture seems dry, add a splash more olive oil.
Serve with heaps of parmigiano-reggiano cheese and a glass of fruity wine. (And don’t forget an empty bowl for the olive pits).
Serves about 4.