I´m very intrigued about new ways to use fennel. I remember it from my early childhood, but of course it was labeled as rabbit food. Fast forward many years, and here I am with raw fennel in my fridge, seeds in my pantry, anise extract, recipes bookmarked everywhere. I can say I have a strange fascination with it now. I bought a mandolin just to slice it thin for salads.
But while a salad is nice with a little anise taste, it´s not something I would eat much of. At least the versions I´ve tried so far. But then this extraordinary book came along, entered my life and decided to make a believer out of me. I sound like a cheesy, corny, 70´s love song, but it´s true.
Caramel is such an extraordinary invention, it´s no wonder it goes with almost anything. Take this tart I made a few weeks ago, the best part were the caramelized bananas. And now we have it mellowing down the very unique flavor of fennel.
I cut the fennel very irregularly, not by choice. I really should sharpen my knives or buy new ones. So there were thinner pieces that browned a lot and were like little licorice bites. Others were thicker so they had more balance, more raw crunch. I simply adore licorice candy, can gulf them down like, well, candy. You know how it´s a love or hate flavor.
The fennel of course intensifies it´s flavor after all the cooking, but it softens a lot if you have it at room temperature, like the recipe advises. And the goat cheese combines perfectly. I do love goat cheese a bit compulsively. I blame it on a chèvre salad I had in Belgium that was absolutely mind-blowing, a culinary fork in my road.
A good glass of red wine is the perfect partner here. I had it with steak; and though this book can, at times, very well transform me into a vegetarian, red meat is never far away in my horizon.
CARAMELIZED FENNEL WITH GOAT CHEESE
barely adapted from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi
Makes 4 servings
4 small fennel bulbs
3 ½ Tbs unsalted butter
3 Tbs olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 Tbs sugar
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Coarse salt and black pepper
¾ cup roughly chopped dill
5oz. goat cheese
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Take off the leafy fronds from the fennel bulbs, if they have any.
Slice off some of the root and remove any tough or brown outer layers, making sure the base still holds everything together. Cut each bulb lengthways into ½ inch thick slices.
Melt butter and oil in large skillet over high heat. When the butter starts to foam add a layer of sliced fennel. Do not overcrowd the pan and don´t turn the fennel or stir it around the pan until one side has become light golden, which will take about 2 minutes. Turn the slices over using tongs and cook for further 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the pan. You might need to do this in two or more batches; in that case distribute the butter and oil evenly among batches.
Add the sugar, fennel seeds and plenty of salt and pepper to the same skillet. Fry for 30 seconds, then return all the fennel slices to the pan to caramelize. Do this gently for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the fennel to a plate and let cool down.