Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Braised fennel wedges with saffron and tomato

It may come as a shock to anyone reading this blog regularly that I don't subsist entirely on cake, or pulled pork or pie. From time to time I have been known to eat the odd vegetable... and no vegetable is odder than fennel - a pale, squat, decidedly hardy bulb with delicate green fronds. Last Sunday I was looking down the barrel of an unusually busy week. I knew I'd get to the end of each day and not feel much like cooking. I'd be hungry though and want something warm and hearty to sustain me after a long day and propel me into the next. Fennel wouldn't have been the obvious choice but I had a new recipe I was keen to try out and because of this, had all the ingredients to hand. 

For a non-meat dish, I have to say this was one of the messiest I'd ever cooked. The splatter factor with the fennel (when frying it prior to adding the stock) was on par with bacon, but the end result every bit as delicious. And there was something thoroughly satisfying about hoeing into a fat wedge of fennel as you would a steak, pinning it down with your fork as you sawed into it with a knife. Apologies to non-carnivores for the constant mention of meat in what is an entirely vegetarian - vegan even! - recipe. No comparison is necessary. This dish stands on its own - rich, robust, salty, sweet and so, so good. 

Braised fennel wedges with saffron and tomato
From Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy via A Sweet Spoonful

Unless you've got an unusually large sauté pan, you'll probably need to cook the fennel wedges in batches. I found it easiest to decant the onions and spices into a casserole (once done) and added the wedges to that when they were cooked, freeing up the pan to fry more. You could certainly serve this as a side dish with fish or chicken, but it's excellent as a meal unto itself, on a bed of quinoa, or couscous or (what I had) soft polenta, especially with a bit of goat's cheese crumbled on top.

2 large fennel bulbs
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
pinch of saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
finely chopped fennel stalks
finely chopped fennel greens
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons capers
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used Maldon but table salt is fine if you don't have this, just use half the amount)
Italian parsely for serving (optional)

Trim off the stalks and greens from the fennel bulbs and chop finely. Set aside. Halve each bulb length-wise and cut the halves into wedges about 1-2 inches thick. 

Heat the olive oil in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and fennel seeds, crumble in the saffron and thyme, and then cook until the onions soften and the steam releases the colour from the saffron, about 7-10 minutes. Add the fennel wedges and cook them until golden, turning them and the onions occasionally. Once they are well-coloured, add the garlic, stir in the tomato paste, capers and then add the stock and salt. Scrape the pan to release the juices, then cover and simmer til the fennel is tender, about 15-20 minutes.



  1. That looks delicious! We have some fennel growing in our veggie patch at the moment so when they are ready to eat I will have to give this a go!

  2. Just thing for a mid-winter feast - looks delicious