Penne with Fennel Frond Pesto

Many times, the fennel fronds are left over when preparing recipes.  This recipe puts them to good use in this pesto that, at first glance, looks like the more common basil pesto. The taste is not unlike basil pesto, in that it has garlic, olive oil, nuts and parmesan cheese. But the fennel fronds have a fresh, green, and lightly anise-scented flavor that distinguishes it from the richly perfumed taste of basil.  When I have fennel at home, I get the most out of it by preparing the bulb one day (I love it roasted) and making the pesto out of the fronds on another day. You’ll have enough pesto left over from this pasta recipe to put in sandwiches or to brush onto some grilled fish.

Makes 4 servings, plus leftover pesto            Preparation time: 30 minutes

1/3 cup pistachios, toasted

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water

Ground black pepper, to taste

4-5 mint leaves, torn (optional)

2 cups lightly packed fennel fronds (usually from 2 fennel bulbs with a good amount of fronds on them)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

juice of ½ lemon, or to taste

1 pound penne pasta

1 cup frozen peas

Put the pistachios, garlic, cheese, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Pulse a few times to grind slightly.  Add fennel and mint, if using, to the food processor. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is reduced to a paste and has a spreadable, but not greasy consistency. Taste and add salt if necessary. Squeeze in a little bit of lemon juice to taste.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water generously and cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, set up a colander in the sink and put the frozen peas in it. (If you have fresh peas, by all means use them. You can add them to the boiling water in the last few minutes of cooking the pasta.)  When the pasta is done, drain the pasta in the colander. Return the pasta, along with the peas, into the pot. Stir in the pesto until pasta is lightly coated and flavorful. Squeeze in a little lemon juice, to taste.  Serve hot or at room temperature.