Angel Hair with Fennel Pesto
['2 tablespoons fennel seeds', '1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes', '6 tablespoons olive oil, divided', '1 yellow onion, finely chopped', '2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and finely chopped (core, outer layers, and fronds reserved; stalks discarded)', '1/2 cup store-bought tomato sauce', '1/2 cup white wine', '1/2 teaspoon salt', '1/2 cup currants', '1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs, lightly toasted', '1/2 cup finely chopped fennel fronds (from fennel above)', '1 tablespoon dried oregano', '1 pound angel hair pasta (capellini)']
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Dry-roast the fennel seeds in a heavy-duty sauce pot over medium-high heat, until they become slightly browned and give off a nutty aroma, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the crushed red pepper, and give a stir or two. Don’t let the flakes burn.
Add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and the onion. Sauté until the onion begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chopped fennel. Sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, wine, and salt, and stir. Cover, and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the fennel cores and outer layers in 6 quarts of salted water, and bring to a boil.
Remove the pot from the oven (the vegetables should be thoroughly soft), and coarsely purée the sauce with an immersion blender. Add the currants, stir, return the pot to the stovetop over low to medium-low heat, and simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the garnish. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the bread crumbs, fennel fronds, and oregano in a bowl, and toss to mix.
When the water has come to a boil, remove and discard the fennel, and add the angel hair. Drain the pasta after about 1 minute, when it’s just short of al dente, reserving 1 cup or so of the cooking water. Return the angel hair to the pot, and set it over medium heat. Add the fennel sauce to the pasta, and toss to incorporate. Add some of the reserved cooking water if needed to help incorporate the sauce and finish cooking the pasta. Serve in shallow bowls, topping each with a “halo” of garnish.
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