Braised Fennel: Bonnie Stern’s “Heartsmart Cooking”

If you like balsamic vinegar, the thick, sweet kind, on your tomatoes you will like this braised fennel with fresh tomatoes. I’m not sure if the fennel flavour itself works with the tomatoes, but on its own it tastes way too much like candy to call it salad.

I fell in love with fennel through my roasting bible. All you do is roast them with a little oil and then sprinkle with lemon juice and the whole licorice flavour explodes, but it’s not as sharp and it becomes a little sweeter from the roasting. I still can’t quite handle the sharp flavour of fennel when raw.

I just wish fennel weren’t so expensive. I thought I got a deal on these. Seventy-five cents a bulb, but the bulbs were small and more of the outer layers weren’t edible, so really I don’t think it was worth it, especially since the reduced vinegar-honey sauce soaks into the inedible leaves and you end up sucking out way too much of it without having it be diluted by delicious fennel flavour. So it’s way too intense and my teeth ache and I get a headache and a sugar rush and can’t eat these for dinner or I’ll be up all night. Ridiculous, I know.

I also don’t think the honey is necessarily essential. Reduced balsamic on its own might be fine unless you have a really big sweet tooth and crave the honey. Finally, I think it could use a squeeze of lemon at the end.

Next time.

2 large fennel bulbs (not 3 squat, tendrous ones like I had), bottom trimmed, stems removed, and cut through the core into wedges (you can reserve the fluffy green stuff to use as garnish or use it as dill in another recipe. It’s not exactly dill but it works)
1 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp honey (the original recipe calls for 3 tbsp)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water plus a few tablespoons extra

First heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and when it’s hot add the fennel wedges. Let them brown on one side (don’t stir them) for 3 minutes then flip them over and let them brown on the other side. How egalitarian.

Add the honey and balsamic vinegar and stir to get all the nooks covered in liquid. Then add the salt and water and stir again.

The liquid is probably already boiling but if not, bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring when you think about it (or at timed intervals if you’re not good at remembering these things. there’s no shame in setting a kitchen timer), for about 25 minutes, or until the fennel is tender. You may have to add a little extra water (a tablespoon at a time as needed) so the glaze doesn’t start to stick to the bottom of the skillet and burn. It’s already a very intense flavour, so a little diluted reduction is better than a little scorched reduction.

Serve as a side dish or on a salad. I think it’s amazing on rice or couscous because the starch soaks up the sticky, sweet sauce, kind of like a good hoisin or teriyaki sauce. Completely different flavour, but just as much sugar. Like I said, it tastes like dessert. Oh! You can just make this sauce without the fennel (and oil), cook it for 20-25 minutes to make a glaze, and then serve on ice cream. It’s also amazing with strawberries, and very traditional. If you’ve never had fennel before, though, this is a great way to try it.


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