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Pasta Shells with Many Cheeses

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time:20 mins
Total Time:0 hour(s)30 mins

Chef Sara Jenkins uses Wild Fennel Pollen—lots of it—every day in her NYC shop Porchetta. It’s an irreplaceable ingredient in her Tuscan-inspired porchetta—roasted pork with crispy skin, highly seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices. But Jenkins, who grew up collecting wild fennel pollen in the fields surrounding her family’s farmhouse in Tuscany, also uses this aromatic, intoxicating ingredient at her restaurant Porsena—in everything from a seared pork chop to grilled mackerel and as a finish to shaved fennel salad.

On her menu recently? A dish from her cookbook Olives and Oranges: Pasta Shells with Many Cheeses, in a variation featuring fennel pollen both in the sauce and strewn on top. Jenkins came up with this dish, she says, “in a frugal attempt to make something tasty out of the scraps left behind on a fancy cheese board.” She advises, “The critical cheese types are a blue that is strong and sheepy, such as Roquefort; a nutty, high-alpine cheese, such as Gruyère or Comté; a good Italian Fontina for melting; and a sharp cheddar for pungent flavor. I like fennel pollen in this dish,” she says, “because it cuts the intense richness of the dish while adding its inimitable flavor."

—Sara Jenkins is the chef and owner at Porchetta and Porsena, NYC. She is the author of two cookbooks: Olives and Oranges and The Four Seasons of Pasta, co-written with her mother, Nancy Jenkins. Recipe courtesy of Sara Jenkins.

Serves 6-8


  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Wild Fennel Pollen, plus a sprinkling for garnish, to taste
  • 2 pounds mixed cheese, at least 6 cheeses and as many as 10 (such as Roquefort, Gouda, English Cheddar, Fontina, Comté, and Gruyère), grated and crumbled


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a medium saucepan, bring cream, thyme, nutmeg and fennel pollen to a simmer over medium heat; cook until thickened and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

Once the cream is reduced, add pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, reduce the heat under the cream to the lowest setting and—stirring with a wooden spoon—begin adding the cheese in handfuls, allowing each addition to melt and blend with the cream before adding the next, until all of the cheese is used and you have a thick sauce.

Drain pasta, transfer to a large bowl, add cheese sauce, and toss together. Season with fennel pollen and serve immediately.