I'll never forget the time I met Deborah Madison. She was on her book tour for Vegetable Literacy in Seattle and I got to hear her speak and get my book signed. Her books hold special places in my heart and are well-loved. It's amazing how many ways she can create beautiful new vegetable recipes that still manage to inspire after all her years of recipe development. Truly, an inspiration. This dish is such a special one. Lovingly braising the fennel brings out so much flavor and aroma. It is my absolute favorite way to prepare fennel. Top it with a poached egg or two to make it a beautiful meal.
2 large fennel bulbs (I used 3 smaller ones)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp fennel seeds
good pinch of saffron threads
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed (I actually used 5 cloves of chopped garlic in this...I'm a garlic lover)
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup water
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 handful fennel greens or flat-leaf parsley
2. Halve each bulb lengthwise and cut the halves into wedges about 1 1/2 inches at the widest part.
3. Heat the olive oil in a wide sauté pan (I used my gorgeous new Dutch oven that I got for my birthday) over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and fennel seeds, crumble in the saffron and thyme and then cook until the steam releases the color from the saffron, after several minutes.
4. Add the fennel wedges and cook them until golden, turning them and the onions occasionally. Once they are well colored, add the garlic, stir in the tomato paste and then add the stock and 1 teaspoon salt.
5. Scrape the pan to release the juices, then cover and simmer until the fennel is tender, another 15 minutes. Before serving, stir in the butter and taste to see if it needs more salt and pepper.