Kristina Gill’s Pantry-Friendly Pasta, Inspired by the Changing Seasons in Rome

updated Oct 20, 2020
Pasta with Leeks, Fennel, Tomatoes, and Guanciale

This simple Roman-inspired pasta dish starts with pantry ingredients and can easily be made vegetarian, if preferred.

Serves4

Prep15 minutes

Cook20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Kristina Gill's pasta with tomato, leeks, fennel and guanciale in bowl.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

When I moved to Rome, so many strict Italian food rules were dictated to me that trying to learn the cuisine and enjoy it was intimidating. I feared being shamed by someone berating my “inferior American food culture,” or lack thereof. At the same time, I noticed that as sure as someone told me inviolable Italian food rule #4342, some other Italian was contradicting it! Eventually I stopped listening to the so-called rules and just decided to make what I like with ingredients I like, and use the ingredient names to describe the dish. So what we have today is Pasta with Leeks, Fennel, Tomatoes, and Guanciale.

When I think about pasta sauces, I can’t imagine there is anything out there that hasn’t been done. So I’m not sharing this under any pretense that it is new, but for me it represents the changing seasons here in Rome. The last of the good cherry tomatoes meet the very early leek and fennel season, which will last until late winter or early spring. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Building a Flavor-Packed Sauce with Leeks, Fennel, Tomatoes, and Guanciale

At my home, our pasta dishes always start with an allium, whichever we have at hand, and chili. On top of that we layer tomato, or a vegetable, or both, and at the end we top it with Parmesan or whichever cheese we have that we are digging. (There is always Parmesan in the refrigerator.) We don’t always have anchovies, capers, olives, sausage, pancetta, or guanciale, but when we do, adding one or two of those is kind of like dressing up your outfit with a sport coat. It’s a little fancy. And that’s what we’ve done in this recipe.

Because we really are not sticklers for rules, I share this with the encouragement to add, omit, or vary any aspect of it to fit your palate. Regardless of how exactly you make it, I suggest following with a lightly dressed simple salad, and seasonal fruit for dessert.

Pasta with Leeks, Fennel, Tomatoes, and Guanciale

This simple Roman-inspired pasta dish starts with pantry ingredients and can easily be made vegetarian, if preferred.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt

  • 1

    medium leek

  • 1

    small fennel bulb

  • 8 ounces

    cherry tomatoes

  • 1

    small fresh red bird’s eye or Thai chile

  • 3 tablespoons

    fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

  • 3 1/2 ounces

    guanciale or pancetta

  • 12 ounces

    dried rigatoni or other short pasta

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Quarter 1 medium leek lengthwise. Cut the white parts crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 packed cup). Halve 1 small fennel bulb. Dice 1 half, then very thinly slice the other half. Halve 8 ounces cherry tomatoes. Halve 1 Thai red chile lengthwise (do not remove the seeds). Coarsely chop 3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves. Cut 3 1/2 ounces guanciale or pancetta into thin matchsticks if using.

  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cook the guanciale and vegetables.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat until shimmering. Add the guanciale and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.Using a slotted spoon, transfer the guanciale to a plate. Cover to keep warm.

  4. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan. Add the leek, chopped fennel, chile, and a large pinch of kosher salt. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the fennel and leeks are very soft but not browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the chile.

  5. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, tomatoes, and a large pinch of kosher salt to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have broken down and are mostly soft, 7 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, add 12 ounces dried rigatoni to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente.

  6. Add the thinly sliced fennel to the sauce and cook for 3 minutes. If the pasta is not ready yet, remove the pan of sauce from the heat.

  7. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to combine over low heat. If you prefer the pasta to be a bit saucier, add the reserved pasta water a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Remove from the heat, add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle the parsley and guanciale on top. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Vegetarian version: To make this recipe vegetarian, omit the guanciale. Cook the leek, fennel, and chile in 3 tablespoons olive oil before proceeding to the next step.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.