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Braised Baby Fennel (Petits Fenouils Braisés)

Braised Baby Fennel (Petits Fenouils Braisés)
Nowhere in the world is fennel taken more seriously than in Provence. The large bulb of the vegetable is commonly baked or served raw in salads, and the feathery tops are used raw as an herb in salads or are cooked in braised dishes, particularly with fish. In this recipe from the town of Salon-de-Provence, the fennel bulbs are small enough to be served whole.

Ingredients:

  • 12 to 16 baby fennel bulbs
  • 5 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion or 4 shallots,
      cut into thin rings
  • 1 long, slender carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1 scant tsp. tomato paste
  • 5 Tbs. water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Chopped fresh chervil or flat-leaf parsley
      for garnish

Directions:

Trim off the feathery tops and the stalks from each fennel bulb, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of the stalks intact. Discard the stalks and tops or reserve for another use. Remove any bruised areas and trim the base of the core.

In a large, wide saucepan or deep fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and carrot and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the fennel bulbs, stir to coat with the oil, then add the garlic and bell pepper. Toss the vegetables, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt and pepper. Stir well, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the fennel bulbs are tender when pierced with a knife, 12 to 15 minutes. If the saucepan is deep, it is wise to butter a piece of parchment paper the diameter of the pan and place it, buttered side down, over the vegetables to keep the steam in and lessen the chance of scorching.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a warmed serving dish and sprinkle with the chervil. Serve immediately.
Serves 6 to 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Provence, by Diane Holuigue (Time-Life Books, 2002).