Roasted fennel in cream sauce
Succulent and sweet, this dish will impress your vegetarian friends.
In springtime, wild fennel will be making an appearance along roadsides and in fields all over Israel. The long stalks and feathery leaves may be used to flavor fish, but the root bulb is puny and not worth digging up. Cultivated fennel bulbs, though, are at their best in spring: fat and heavy in the hand, and succulent.
When the vegetable is at peak season, I enjoy tucking a halved bulb next to a well-spiced chicken and allowing it to roast until caramelized. Sometimes I just douse cut halves with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and bake them, cut side down, for about 40 minutes. A few nights ago, I had a dinner guest and made roasted fennel in cream sauce for this vegetarian friend.
- 1 big fennel bulb
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup light cream
- 1 big clove of garlic, peeled and sliced thickly (3 or 4 slices)
- 1 small sprig of rosemary (or 1/4 tsp. of rosemary needles)
- 2 tablespoons cognac or white wine
- A handful of flaked almonds
- A few drops of olive or almond oil
- More salt and pepper to taste
- A little paprika (just a few sprinkles)
Roast the fennel
Rinse the bulb. Cut the stalky parts and fronds away; reserve the stalks for a raw salad, if liked.
Prepare a baking sheet or pan to roast the fennel in; line it with parchment paper to catch any juices. Smear the halves well with olive oil; sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
Place the halves, cut side down, on the baking sheet and roast them at 350° F (180° C) for 40 minutes. They should emerge from the oven a golden brown and succulent, not dry. They may be eaten as is at this point, but they’re even better with the cream sauce, so start it now. It will be ready before the fennel is cooked through. You can reheat the sauce gently.
Toast the almonds
Put a few drops of oil – almond oil is best, but a little delicate olive oil will do instead – into a skillet. Heat the oil for a minute, then stir in the flaked almonds. Heat the almonds through, stirring. When a nutty aroma rises from the skillet, turn the flame off. The almonds should still be golden, with browned edges, and by no means burnt. Remove them from the pan, season lightly with herb salt if you have some – ordinary salt if you don’t – and set aside.
Make the sauce
Pour the entire cup of cream into a skillet. Add the garlic and the cognac or wine. Over low heat, start to reduce the cream. Don’t allow the cream to boil, just stir often and watch it become thicker and thicker. This should take between 10 and 15 minutes.
When the cream thickly coats a spoon dipped into it, add the rosemary. Cook another minute or two, and add seasonings to taste. Sprinkle a little paprika into it and stir well. The paprika adds a little warmth to the color and taste of the cream.
Turn the flame off and cover the cream. Let the garlic and rosemary infuse in it for 5 minutes, then fish them out. This is important: You don’t want their flavors to dominate over the delicate flavor of fennel.
Note: this makes enough cream sauce for 4 fennel halves (2 bulbs).
Remove the hot, roasted fennel to a serving plate, cut surface up. Cover the halves with cream. Strew toasted almonds over everything. Serve.
To make raw fennel salad: It can be made from the reserved stalks. slice them and sprinkle with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Of course an entire fennel bulb may be used this way too. A combination of finely sliced celery and fennel is good, too.
Related Topics: Vegetarian