It’s a wonder that I love fennel. I hate licorice, and in France anise is everywhere, more specifically in the Ricard-type liqueurs that are so thick and full of alcohol they must be diluted with water. Jérôme loves them, and I just can’t get behind their strong, overpowering anise flavor. Raw fennel is packed with much the same flavors, which is why for a long time I didn’t dare buy it. I finally decided to go out on a limb one day a few years ago, and this recipe was born. The fennel is braised in a cream sauce and balanced with smoky bacon and delicate cream, with just a touch of mustard for an extra kick. The flavors go wonderfully together, and this dish completely annihilated my fear of fennel, leading the way to raw fennel shaved in salads in the spring. I just had a lovely salad of fennel, avocado and mâche last night (and today as leftovers), and I have this recipe to thank for it.
This is of course more of a winter dish that I should’ve posted about weeks ago, but never got around to with all the wonderful chaos that was culinary school. In school, we made many variations on braised fennel, most using olive oil and thyme and lots of garlic. This one is a bit milder, and even though noone wants to be braising vegetables in the spring or summer, if you’re experiencing cool weather like we are, go ahead and give it a try. If not, save it for your next rainy day.
Braised fennel with cream and bacon
Adapted slightly from Gourmet (Epicurious)
6-8 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips
2 bulbs of fennel, cores removed and sliced
1 T olive oil
1 C stock
1/2 C heavy cream
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, sliced thinly
1 T hot French mustard
In a dutch oven or pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add your bacon strips and cook until just beginning to crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Add the fennel and sweat until it starts looking translucent. Add your garlic cloves and onions, cooking for 2-3 minutes longer. Add the stock and heavy cream, stirring to combine. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. The fennel should be fully cooked and soft by now, but with a little bit of crunch left to it. Uncover and let the mixture simmer for another 10 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving you with a thick sauce. Turn off the heat and stir in the mustard. Serve immediately, sprinkled with fennel fronds.