Fennel

The other night my mom and I had dinner at Delfina. We’ve been fantasizing about the restaurant since we stumbled in there by accident during a rainstorm a few years ago and had an incredible, unforgettable meal. This time around, unfortunately, was nowhere near that magical experience. The quality of the execution of the food was still very good, there just wasn’t anything on the menu that we were particularly excited about ordering to begin with. Partly the problem was that I had to choose between fish, which I don’t eat much anymore, and wheat, which I don’t eat much anymore. I chose wheat (better for me to suffer than the fish!) and my pasta with breadcrumbs (I know, I know, I’m insane) was tasty but too rich, too heavy, and made me want to lay my head down on the table for a nap.

The highlight of the meal (as it so often is for me in European restaurants) was our side dish – some kind of grilled or roasted fennel (I was too sleepy to remember exactly how it was prepared) that was caramelized to an exquisite, tender sweetness. I was thrilled to pick up my box the next day and find a lovely bulb of Florence fennel waiting for me, ready for an encore. I googled for roasted fennel and ended up using a simple recipe from the appropriately named Simply Recipes blog.

I only have a couple of notes to add to Elise’s excellent recipe. The first is a tip I found mentioned in several other posts about fennel, which is to leave the bulb connected at the base and then make your slices vertically through the bulb, so the base holds each slice together and you don’t end up with many little fennel strips. The other note I would add is that the cooking time was much longer for me, so I would use the 15-20 minutes as a starting place but really keep checking the tenderness of the fennel. It is done when it is quite tender and at least somewhat caramelized.

Roasted Fennel (adapted from the Simply Recipes blog)

One or more bulbs of fennel
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To prepare fennel, trim off the stems (the green stalks with the fronds), slice the bulb in half length-wise, put the cut side down and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Do not trim off the base! You want to keep it intact so it holds the layers of fennel together.

Rub both sides of fennel slices with olive oil, enough to coat. Line a baking dish with parchment paper, aluminum foil, or a silpat mat. Place fennel slices in baking dish in a single layer. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, enough to coat. You can sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, but I thought it was plenty flavorful without them. Cook for 40 minutes or so, until the fennel is quite tender, golden brown and beginning to caramelize.

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