Ah fennel – the vegetable that says Summer to me, yet grows in Winter. It goes so well in crisp, light, lively salads, the sort that don’t seem to pair well with the cold, short, dark days of Winter. The trick of course, is to apply heat to the bulb, braising or sauteeing it into dishes suitable for Winter. We have a few ready to be posted over the next few Wintery months, so stay tuned.
This dish braises the fennel with salty capers and black olives, splashing it with verjuice before serving it with a little creamy feta and tangy lemon zest. It is an Ottolenghi dish – who else would put those flavours together? It is a pleasure to add this dish to our heat-applied fennel dishes.
Just in case you are wondering, the 15 garlic cloves isn’t a typo – once scorched, they add a mellowing sweetness to an otherwise piercingly sharp dressing. Keep the ricotta in the dish if you can, it helps balance the acidity of the verjuice and other ingredients.
This Ottolenghi dish is from Plenty More – we are cooking our way through this book. We feel free to substitute ingredients that are not readily available in our local area. In fact, it is Ottolenghi Cooking the Books Day on the blog – one of two days per month where we publish the latest recipes we have tried in our project of cooking from Ottolenghi’s books – those we have cooked directly and those we have been inspired by. Currently we are cooking from Plenty More, but not ignoring his other books completely. As I said, I often massage the recipes to suit what is available from our garden and pantry. For the original recipes, check his books and his Guardian column.
Similar recipes include Baked Fennel with a Creamy Sauce, Fennel with Garlic and Orange, Slow Baked Fennel with Chilli, Garlic and Orange, Fennel and Fig Salad with Vin Cotto, and Fennel, Tomato and Potato Salad.
We use Australian measurements: 1 tspn = 5ml; 1 Tblspn = 20ml; 1 cup = 250ml.
Braised Fennel with Capers, Olives and Ricotta
4 medium fennel bulbs
3 Tblspn olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
15 large whole garlic cloves, skin on
4 Tblspn verjuice (available from good supermarkets and Middle Eastern groceries – the Australian verjuice brands are a little sweeter than the Middle Eastern ones)
1 medium tomato, cut into 1cm dice
250ml fresh vegetable stock
20g capers, drained
25g black wrinkly olives, pitted and chopped in half
1 Tblspn chopped thyme leaves
2.5 tspn caster sugar
1 tspn grated lemon zest
sea salt and black pepper
First prepare the fennel. Trim off and discard the tops (reserve any leafy fronds for garnish) and cut each bulb in half from top to bottom; you are aiming for thick slices about 2.5cm wide.
In a large frying pan for which you have a lid, heat two and a half tablespoons of oil on a medium to high heat. Add half the fennel with a pinch or two of sea salt and some black pepper. Cook for five or six minutes, turning once, so it’s nicely brown on both sides, remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining fennel.
Keep the empty pan on the heat, pour in the remaining oil, add the garlic and fry for three minutes, tossing occasionally, so the skin gets scorched all over. Lower the heat to medium, carefully (it spits!) add the verjuice and reduce for a couple of minutes until there are about two Tblspn of liquid left in the pan.
Add the tomato, 100ml of the stock, the capers, olives, thyme, sugar, salt to taste and some black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cook for two minutes, then return the fennel to the pan.
Add the remaining stock, pop on the lid and leave to simmer for 12-14 minutes, turning once during the cooking, until the fennel is soft and the sauce has thickened. (You may need to remove the lid and increase the heat for the last two or three minutes.)
Place two slices of fennel on each plate, spoon over the sauce and serve with a spoonful of ricotta and some freshly grated lemon zest. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve warm or at room temperature.