17 November 2013

Herbed Goat Cheese Pasta with Caramelized Fennel & Onions

Expat life is special but peculiar. You at once feel a part of and removed from the identity of both your native country  and host country. You feel a bit like a floater, rooted not as much in a place but in your own purpose and identity as a person, which has its benefits as it can move with you anywhere. And as any of you who have lived in another country can relate, there are inevitable frustrations along the way. There is the learning curve to surpass cultural and language barriers and to understand unspoken local rules and regulations that everyone seems to know about but you.

In the past year I have both politely and rudely been taught that I cannot bike on the sidewalks, touch too many avocados to see which ones are ripe before putting them in my bag (some little ladies just have nothing better to do these days!), or retrieve a package from the post until I pay a rather hefty customs fee. Whatever, these are growing pains, difficult to cope with at first but become the adjusted norm eventually.

In the end these are minor events, giving us something to laugh at later on, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. And the biggest lessons I have learned are the following: smiles transcend cultural and language barriers (so does crying!), nothing in the end is truly unfigureoutable (I know that's not a word), and patience and persistence goes a long way.

That's where this pasta dish comes in. Caramelizing onions on the stove takes some patience and persistence in it's own right. And they are really yummy too, especially paired with pasta, lemon, lots of tarragon and dill, goat cheese, and walnuts. But if we're spending a lot of emotional energy reinforcing our patience in the real world we don't always want to do it in the kitchen too, right? So I take a short-cut roasting the fennel and onions in the oven which essentially yields the same caramelized goodness, but in half the time.

I realize there is a drought of pasta dishes on the blog so far - I'll work on it! I do enjoy pasta, it's simply not a go-to staple for us. And if I'm going to have pasta, I like to know it can be a one-bowl meal from a nutritional perspective - balanced in whole grains,  protein, etc. So I prefer using brown rice, quinoa, spelt (known as dinkel here) or whole wheat pasta, depending on the recipe. All of these choices provide more nutritional depth, fiber, protein, and longer staying power. I'm using brown rice pasta here, but any of the other choices would work except for whole wheat which would probably be too heavy. Though you could use half regular pasta and half whole wheat.

And a note about the herbs. Tarragon and dill are two of my favorite herbs but I think they are underused sometimes. They are a main flavor component of the dish, so don't be shy having a heavy hand. The sweet anise of the tarragon compliments the roasted fennel while the dill paired with lemon brightens the whole dish. And if you don't use fennel much in your cooking, this is a great way to start. The flavor, when cooked is sweet and subtle. It's also wonderful raw, shaved thinly in a salad for freshness and crunch, as in this black rice salad.

Wishing you all a week filled with smiles, patience, and persistence!

Herbed Goat Cheese Pasta with Caramelized Fennel & Onions
Serves 4-5

Notes: Quinoa, spelt (dinkel), or half regular/half whole wheat pasta could be substituted for brown rice pasta.

Update: If using brown rice noodles be sure to rinse them after draining to remove excess starch.

3/4 cup walnuts
2 medium red onions
1 large fennel
2-3 Tbsp melted coconut oil (or ghee/oil with high smoke point)
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3/4 lb (14 oz) brown rice linguini
4 oz (1/2 cup) soft goat cheese
Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
1 bunch tarragon, chopped (1/3 cup)
Half bunch dill, chopped (1/4 cup)
1 coffee mug of reserved pasta water
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F. While preheating add walnuts to toast until you can smell them (~10 min). Remove and let cool slightly, then coarsely chop.

In the meantime halve and thinly slice onions. Remove and discard the woody root end and stalk of the fennel bulb. Cut bulb in half, then cut into the core to remove. Thinly slice each half lengthwise.  Place onion and fennel on a large parchment-lined baking sheet, toss with oil and a big pinch salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until soft and caramelized, removing halfway through to stir and add balsamic vinegar.

With 10 minutes roasting time remaining, boil pasta, and reserve a coffee mug of pasta water just before draining. (Rinse drained noodles to remove excess starch.) Add goat cheese to a large high-sided saute pan and warm over medium-low heat to slowly melt. Add lemon zest and juice, pinch of salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper (or to taste), and half of pasta water to make a sauce. Then add pasta, roasted onions, fennel, and most of the herbs, tossing gently with tongs to coat in sauce. Add extra pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. (I used almost the full mug.) Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle over walnuts, remaining herbs, and serve immediately.

This week I am sharing this recipe with Karen over at Lavender and Lovage for her Cooking withHerbs series.

Cooking with Herbs


  1. What a beautiful post and clever recipe, Katie! I'm eager to try brown rice pasta as I've never tasted it. Does it have a similar consistency to regular pasta?

    1. Thank you Sini! I would say its consistency more closely resembles regular rice noodles you find in Asian noodle bowls. But this can vary by brand. From my experience the good brands include rice bran for improved consistency. It is important to not overcook so it's not gummy and to have a loose enough sauce to coat because it absorbs liquid quicker. Hope this helps!

  2. What an inspired way to serve goat's cheese and fennel Katie and such wonderful imagery too. This recipe has all of my favourite ingredients in it and it is just the sort of winter pasta dish we would all love in my house! Karen

    1. Hi Karen, thank you! I agree, this is a great pasta dish to make in the cold months ahead!

  3. That looks absolutely delicious.
    I love every single component, so together it seems like my dream dish.

    I met one of my closest friends when her family moved to my country and she became an expat.. even though it was hard at first, she now loves it with all her heart!

    { Teffys Perks Blog } X

    1. Teffy, thank you for your nice comment and for understanding! And yes, the combination of goat cheese, caramelized onions, and walnuts is hard to beat so I'm sure you'll love it. :)

  4. Mm. This looks so good.

    1. Thanks Laura! It's especially warming on a cold, damp winter evening. :)


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