Pasta finocchi with mollica

Pasta finocchi with mollica

My Italian Kitchen
Chris Middleton

Growing up, I remember Mum and Dad always wanting to pick the wild fennel on the side of the road. I never understood why, and hated being dragged along to pick it, thinking it was so embarrassing to be seen picking what I called ‘weeds’ off the side of the road. Oh, was I wrong! Wild fennel has this depth of flavour that really is beyond words. Mollica is a toasted crunchy breadcrumb topping, used as ‘poor man’s parmesan’ back in the old days for those who couldn't afford to buy parmigiano for their pasta.


Quantity Ingredient
850ml Napolitana
1 bunch wild fennel fronds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 long red chilli, thinly sliced
2-3 anchovy fillets, chopped
100g dry breadcrumbs
sea salt flakes
500g maccheroncini pasta, or pasta of your choice


  1. Make the napolitana sauce.
  2. Wash and chop the fennel into 2–3 cm pieces.
  3. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, and boil the fennel for a few minutes until tender, then drain.
  4. Pour half the olive oil into a saucepan over a low–medium heat, add the chilli, the fennel and half the garlic, and season with salt. Slowly fry for 5 minutes until lightly golden. Set aside.
  5. In another saucepan, heat the remaining oil. Add the remaining garlic, the anchovies and the breadcrumbs, and fry over a low heat until the breadcrumbs are golden. Season with sea salt and set aside.
  6. Cook your favourite pasta. I like to use maccheroncini as it goes perfectly with this sauce! Toss the pasta with a little of the tomato sauce, spoon over more tomato sauce, then the fried fennel and breadcrumb mixture (mollica), and serve immediately.


  • You can only make this recipe with wild fennel. Ask your local fruit shop if they can get it in or try the markets. Some are even lucky enough to find it when foraging. It grows like crazy in the country and on the side of the road.
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