In honor of the books we’ve been reading recently for my online book club, “The Kitchen Reader,” I’d like to share a recipe for caramelized fennel. But first my apologies for not posting much recently – the crepe cart has been keeping me busy! However I’m now on a break in France where it’s hot but not humid, the air is filled with the sound of cicadas and the markets are full of fennel. It is so good to be back at the kitchen table in Cazo.
For the past two months “The Kitchen Reader” group has focused on books that explore food sustainability and environmentally responsible eating. June’s pick was “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman. In hindsight, I’m surprised by how much this book has effected me — though when reading it last month I thought he (Bittman) was preaching to the choir (me). His “vegan til six” idea struck me as a little kitschy, somehow. But his suggestions have stuck. Since finishing it, I have cut my consumption of all animal products dramatically. It’s influenced the way I shop and cook for my family. And Pollan’s ideas in “In Defense of Food” are similar. More vegetables. Less meat. Period. These are important books to read to get you thinking and inspired about not only your own health but that of the planet.
So here is a recipe from chef Yottam Ottolenghi – minus the goat curd as this needs no help from the animal kingdom to make it delicious. It is truly one of the best dishes I’ve made at home. It’s simple, low-impact and high in flavor. Try it served hot and nibbled right out of the skillet, warm and tossed with pasta, as a side, or cold the next day mixed in with a lunchtime salad. Even if you think you don’t like fennel, give this a whirl and see if you might be converted. Or am I already preaching to the choir?
Caramelized Fennel with Lemon Zest and Garlic
Try this dish. It will become a staple in your culinary repertoire. A nod to London’s chef Ottolenghi and his new, outrageously inspired cookbook “Plenty” for the inspiration for this recipe- though as I mentioned, I’ve modified it somewhat to keep it purely vegan. I’m also taking a Jamie Oliver approach to recipe writing using terms like a “glug of olive oil” and a “knob of butter” to let you decide on your own how much to add. This is so good you might want to have company around when you make it.
4 small to medium fennel bulbs (the smaller they are, the more delicate)
a few knobs of butter
a few glugs of olive oil
2 Tbsp caster sugar (crystalized brown sugar works best here)
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed (don’t be tempted to add more – one is enough)
grated zest of one half lemon
coarse sea salt and black pepper
Prepare the fennel bulbs by removing the leafy fronds. Next slice off part of the root and remove tough outer layers but make sure the root base still holds everything together. Now cut the bulbs lengthwise in 1/4″ thick slices.
Melt a knob of butter and a glug of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. When the butter starts to foam, add a layer of fennel slices. Be sure not to crowd the pan and don’t stir or turn the fennel over until the bottom side starts to turn light brown (about 90 seconds). Using tongs, turn the slices over and cook for another minute or two. Remove the cooked fennel from the pan, add a bit more olive oil and butter and repeat the process with the remaining raw fennel.
Once all the fennel is done and removed from the pan, add the sugar, fennel seeds, salt and pepper to the pan and fry for 30 seconds (the sugar will melt quickly, making a gorgeous, caramely sauce). Now return all the fennel to the pan and caramelize, stirring gently for 1-2 more minutes. Once the fennel is coated with the sauce and fennel seeds turn off the heat and add the garlic. Stir again to incorporate it. Remove fennel to a platter and garnish with lemon zest, and more salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.