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Fennel with Romesco Sauce

Fennel is a strong licorice-flavored herb that mellows in intensity when grilled. Romesco sauce is a versatile Spanish condiment for many grilled foods, including vegetables and fish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large fennel bulbs 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 2 dried ancho or pasilla chilies  
  • 1 red bell pepper, quartered lengthwise and seeded 
  • 2 plum tomatoes, quartered and seeded  
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered 
  • 4 garlic cloves 
  • 1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds  
  • 2 Tbs. sherry vinegar 
  • 2 Tbs. white wine 
  • 2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika 

Directions:

Trim off the stalks 1/2 inch above the fennel bulbs, reserving a few green fronds, if any, for garnish. Trim away any bruised skin. Slice the fennel bulbs lengthwise into quarters, trimming away the thickest part of the central core but keeping the layers intact and attached. In a large bowl, combine the fennel and the 1/4 cup olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, soak the chilies in warm water until soft and pliable, about 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid and pat the chilies dry. Halve and seed the chilies.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. Brush and oil the grill grate or a vegetable-grilling basket.

Brush the chilies, bell pepper, tomatoes, onion and garlic with olive oil. Place the fennel, chilies, bell pepper, tomatoes, onion and garlic on the grill or in the grilling basket. Grill directly over medium-high heat, turning often, until lightly charred on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes for the fennel, about 5 minutes for the chilies, 8 to 10 minutes for the bell pepper, 6 to 8 minutes for the tomatoes, 8 to 10 minutes for the onion and 2 to 3 minutes for the garlic. Transfer the grilled vegetables to a bowl, cover and let steam for 10 minutes.

Transfer the grilled fennel to a serving platter.

To make the romesco sauce, using your fingers or a paring knife, peel the bell pepper and tomatoes and discard the skins. In a blender or a food processor, combine the bell pepper, tomatoes, chilies, onion, garlic, almonds, vinegar, wine and paprika. Process into a pourable sauce, adding the reserved soaking liquid from the chilies as needed. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into a serving bowl and serve with the fennel. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma On the Grill, by Willie Cooper (Oxmoor House, 2009).