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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fennel or Foe

Fine Cooking Magazine, October, 2011
Who knew?  That's all I can say.  Who knew that fennel would turn out to be one of my favorite vegetables.  Back before I knew how to cook, fennel was one of those ingredients that would have completely turned me me off.  It is, after all, a little intimidating to look at with all those fronds.  Which part do you eat?  And a vegetable that tastes like licorice?  I don't know about that.

Live and learn.  That's all I can say.  I love fennel either raw in salads or braised as in this dish.  It's a really nice counterpart to stews and roasts and is perfect for winter.  Let's face it.  If stewed meats are delicious, stewed veggies are just as good and have the added of bonus of being... vegetables.  The orange zest and coriander add a light citrusy touch which is especially nice in the mid of winter.

This braised fennel dish is quick to put together and I promise that it will be a real show stopper.

Recipe:  Braised Fennel with Orange
Fine Cooking Magazine, October, 2011)

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium fennel bulbs (about 4 lb. total), stalks trimmed and bulbs cut into quarters (cores left intact), fronds reserved for garnish
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth
1 medium navel orange
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.


Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the fennel, cut side down. Cook undisturbed until browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other cut sides.

Arrange the fennel browned sides up in a large (10x14-inch) gratin or shallow baking dish. Add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining fennel. Lower the heat to medium if any smoking occurs. It’s OK if the wedges are snug in the baking dish; they’ll shrink as they braise.

Add the garlic to the skillet and and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits, about 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer to meld the flavors, about 2 minutes. Pour over the fennel.

With a vegetable peeler, remove three 3-inch strips of zest from the orange and then juice the orange. Nestle the pieces of zest in the fennel and pour the juice over. Sprinkle with the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, 1 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Cover the dish tightly with foil and braise in the oven until the fennel has collapsed and a paring knife penetrates the cores with no resistance, about 1-1/4 hours.

Spoon some braising liquid over the fennel, garnish with the reserved fronds, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

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