Orzo with Fennel Confit

In this recipe I use a number of the suggestions put forward in my last post "Cooking Healthy Meals In Less Time". On one hand, this recipe is very simple, as it only has a few ingredients - fennel, onion, garlic, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, which are then tossed with pasta and paremsan cheese. One the other hand, there's a very exact method and very specific choices of ingredients that make this a really, really nice dish. Particularly, the choice of products, as I'll describe below.

Here are the items of advice that I followed:

  1. Bought very high quality fresh fennel at a specialty market over a week ago. Fresh fennel lasts for a few weeks refrigerated. It's massively overpriced at my local store ($4+ per) and often beginning to show browning. I get a better value ($1.50-unbelievable) at the specialty store, not to mention great freshness.
  2. Used the fennel confit for exotic pizza night last Friday. Plenty of fennel confit left over, so I reused the fennel confit to build this pasta dish.
  3. Used a good recipe (at first). Starting from someone else's recipe years ago, I began making this fennel confit. Not that the prorportions are critical down to the teaspoon, but the contribution of fennel seeds and crushed red pepper (not my idea) is what makes it really good. You can now use my recipe. Go ahead, try it. 
  4. Used a very reliable technique, which I've performed many times. Onions build an incredible complexity of sugars when cooked slowly over medium-low heat (alone or with fresh fennel as in this dish). Mostly unattended, the onions cook for about 35 minutes.
  5. Used the same brand of orzo pasta I've used for 10 years - Barilla. When the box says "al dente in 9-10 minutes", I KNOW that I will cook it for exactly 10 minutes, in fact, in the same pot I always use for orzo, and it will be perfectly done. I almost don't need to taste test it - but I do anyway.
  6. Used a high quality parmesan that runs around $15/lb. It has that salty, almost gritty dry taste. It's also flavorful enough that I don't need to use all too much. Only about an ounce (or less).

Orzo with Fennel Confit

1 large fennel bulb, green parts trimmed, sliced.
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
     --- Combine in a large skillet over medium medium-heat, cook for 5 minutes.
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled, left whole
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Generous amount of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
     --- Cook for 30 minutes, stirring 3-4 times, until all vegetables are light golden brown
     --- Can be used immediately, or cooled and stored for up to a week, refrigerated.
1 pound orzo (rice shaped pasta) or other very small pasta, Barilla brand recommended
     --- Cook per package directions
1-2 ounces good-quality parmesan cheese, grated
     --- Combine hot pasta with fennel confit and cheese.
     --- Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed.

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