I created this recipe for Vegetarian Times (1 food, 5 ways: Fennel, March 2012).  Fennel serves as the base of this wonderfully hearty, Italian-inspired vegetable stew.  Using a combination of fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes provides a rich flavor and a thick sauce for the orzo. Serve this ragout with crusty bread and a light salad for a casual fall dinner party.

Orzo with Fennel & Tomato Ragout

¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3 Tbs. tomato paste
16 oz. dry orzo pasta
1 large fennel bulb, cut into 16 wedges
2 medium carrots, diced (2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped (2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
1 28-oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1. Cover sun-dried tomatoes with 3/4 cup boiling water in bowl. Soak 30 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and set aside.

2. Cook orzo according to package directions; drain, and set aside.

3. Coat Dutch oven with cooking spray, and heat over medium-high heat. Add fennel; top with carrots and onion, and cook 5 minutes without stirring. Stir, and sauté 5 minutes more. Stir in garlic, and cook 30 seconds. Stir in fire-roasted tomatoes, beans, and sun-dried tomato mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Serve over orzo.