The other day I was in the mood to cook something unfamiliar. It was a Wednesday, nothing interesting happened on Monday or Tuesday and I needed a little excitement. The answer: dinner party. As of September 1st, all my friends moved to opposite corners of Boston. Literally, opposite: Brighton, Mission Hill, North Quincy, Somerville, Milton, and Charlestown. Consequently we haven’t seen as much of each other, and it needed to happen. A dinner party was the perfect mini-reunion to meet back up and chat about all these new living situations and what not.
Now for the food… my brother is a chef, and he’s really good. Tom can take any number of random ingredients and come up with something delicious and Food-Network worthy. That’s why I called him for a dinner party idea. All he had to say was “caramelized fennel” and I was set. I have never cooked with fennel or caramelized anything. Meesh: 1, mid-week slump: 0.
Fennel is intimidating:
Here is Tom’s original recipe for Caramelized Fennel with Tomato, Olive and Orange (if you see him on Top Chef, you saw it here first!):
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 head fennel
- 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
- 1 orange, for juice and zest
- ½ cup basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1.5 cups olive oil
For the Tomatoes:
- Preheat oven to 400
- Toss whole grape tomatoes with balsamic and lightly coat with oil, mix in salt, pepper and thyme
- Roast tomatoes in oven until they get sufficient color on them
- Remove from oven and set aside
For the Fennel:
- Remove the tops of the fennel and discard
- Cut the head on fennel and cut into 8 equal sized wedges with the core still intact so that they maintain their shape
- Heat oil in a pan to medium high heat (try to gauge the amount of oil so it will reach ¾ of the way up the fennel – it will not cook evenly with too little oil!)
- Add the fennel and cook until it starts to brown, then squeeze some of the orange juice over the fennel wedges
- Turn the fennel over and repeat on the other side, cook until you see the fennel caramelizing from the sugar of the orange, it creates a crispy brown surface on the fennel.
- Remove fennel from pan, place on paper towel to drain oil, and sprinkle with salt immediately.
- In a bowl mix tomatoes, olives , orange zest, and the torn basil leaves, and mix that together
- Add fennel when serving (it will be too delicate to mix with the tomatoes)
The flavors mix perfectly together, the bitterness of the olive and the sweetness of the orange create a really nice blend. The orange also balances out the licorice flavor of the fennel. Do I even have to mention the balsamic? Fennel is easy to work with and tastes great, don’t be scared of it!
- Squeeze a lot of orange juice on the fennel to caramelize it, be really generous with this. I didn’t get this right until my third batch, but that third batch was money.
- Don’t forget the salt when you take the fennel out of the pan.
- Don’t be as generous with the orange zest. Orange zest has a really strong flavor that was a tad bit overbearing.
- Make sure the oil is hot when you add the fennel to the pan.
- Can be served with chicken, steak or fish.