Fresh fennel is a fantastic vegetable that is that is available for most of the year, but is at its peak during the cooler months. Unfortunately, home cooks quite often overlook fennel as a vegetable, possibly because some are unsure with how to deal with it. It is a shame, because fennel is extremely easy to prepare and depending on how you treat it, fennel runs through a whole spectrum of flavours.
Raw fennel has a zingy anise flavour that provides a fresh vitality to salads and seafood dishes when sliced thinly. When cooked, the aniseed flavour mellows and a new, sweet dimension takes over. When slow roasted, as in this recipe, the fennel ends up meltingly soft and a caramelised sweetness takes over.
Fennel prepared in this manner is sensational accompaniment to fish. At work we simmer the roasted fennel in some tomato dressing and sprinkle the lot with a little gremolata. This is served alongside a fillet of barramundi, a large fish caught in Australia's tropical waters. It also makes a great centrepiece for a vegetarian meal. Just serve with some semolina gnocchi and dress with some of the aforementioned roasted tomato dressing.
Don't panic if you can't obtain verjuice. Verjuice is crushed unripe grape juice, and is wonderful in this dish, but it is not easy to obtain and its absence can be easily worked around.
Serves 4 - 6 as a side dish.
First off, trim the fennel. Cut away the stems - if they are still attached, to within about 2 centimetres of the top of the bulb. Cut away the woody base and peel away the outer segments of the bulb if they look a little wilted. Cut the bulb(s) into quarters or eighths if it is large and place in a roasting dish. Scatter with all the remaining ingredients, making sure to use a good amount of salt and pepper.
Cover the dish with foil and roast in a preheated 180 °C (360 °F) oven for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and uncover. Be careful of the escaping steam. Test with a fork, they should be nice and soft right to the centre. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes, uncovered to give the fennel a little colour.
Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate. Lasts well for up to 4 days.
* If you can't find verjuice, just use all white wine and add the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 tsp of sugar.