Thursday, February 10, 2011

Braised Fennel with Anchovy and Lemon

Braised Fennel with Anchovy and Lemon

Fennel is a vegetable I don't use enough.  And actually, I didn't discover it until I met Matt.  I first had it at his parents' house in a raw fennel salad they make - and I didn't like it.  I'm not particularly fond of Anis (and at that point in my life I also very much disliked fennel seeds) and when I first bit into the celery-like slices, I had to force myself to keep it down.  Not because it wasn't a tasty salad, but because it was a flavor I was used to hating.  I was too proud then (and probably still so now) to admit that I didn't like almost any food - much less something my then "maybe-one-day-in-laws" had just presented on the table, so I ate it up and smiled and moved on, wondering what the heck I'd just eaten and how I could avoid it for the rest of my life.

At that point I wasn't aware the fennel could also be cooked and served hot - something that almost guaranteed I'd like it better, being a sucker for hot food.  But somehow somewhere I had it again and it was cooked - probably in Italian food, as it's used ubiquitously in it - and I loved it.  Cooking fennel takes all the licorice-y bite out of it and if not overcooked keeps the crunch and texture.  I have never gone back to my fennel-hating ways, and I even eat it raw now.  Just comes to prove my theory on food that if at first you don't succeed, buy, buy again.

A Tale of Fennel Fronds and Lemon Zest

I was inspired to cook this dish by a braised fennel dish I had in a hotel a couple of weeks ago in Ras Al Khaimah, when Matt, Roman and I took a weekend trip there.  Overall it was a pretty mediocre dish, but the idea seemed brilliant to me (as limited as I am in my fennel repertoire): braise fennel!  Their version was just fennel in a somewhat bland tomato sauce and it was still pretty good.  I am making mine with some of my favorite Italian flavors: garlic, lemon, anchovy and pepperoncino.

It makes a great sidedish or could be beefed up to be a delicious main tossed in pasta, served warm over couscous or as part of a cold or warm salad - in fact, the juice the fennel is cooked in would make a wonderful salad dressing.  Even better, serve some steamed or braised fish over it for the perfect summer or winter meal. 

* * *

Braised Fennel with Anchovy and Lemon

Serves 2

2 large fennel bulbs, quartered, then sliced in half again into wedges
*reserve some of the fronds, minced
1 large juicy lemon (or 2 small ones), zested and juiced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp anchovy paste
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken stock (or 1 bouillon cube + 1/2 cup water)
salt and pepper
4-5 tbsps olive oil

1. Heat half the oil in a pan at medium high heat; add the garlic and allow to fry for a little bit before adding 1/2 the chopped fennel.  Sautee the fennel until golden on both sides (5-6 minutes).  The garlic will turn brown, but turn the heat down if it starts to burn.  Remove the fennel to an oven-safe dish.

2. Add the other half of the oil and sautee the remaining fennel as above.  Remove to the same oven-proof dish.

3. Turn down the heat slighly, then add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and about 1 tbsp minced fennel fronds, the red pepper flakes, and the lemon zest to the remaining hot oil and garlic bits.  Then add the anchovy paste and lemon juice.  Sautee briefly.

4.  Add the chicken stock and some pepper.  Allow the mixture to reduce for 1-2 minutes.

5. Pour the mixture over the fennel in the oven-proof dish.  The liquid should come up about halfway.

6. Put in the oven to cook uncovered for about 30 minutes at 200C or 400F, or until the fennel is slightly golden at the top and the liquid is reduced by nearly half.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh my this dish does sound delicious, I bet the anchovy and lemon just put it over the top. We never had this growing up and the first time I tried it braised with a bit of balsamic vinegar and sea salt, I was just amazed. That was my go to treatment, but I see I need to branch out.