Braised fennel – for 4
Fennel is my favourite vegetable; here it is cooked in a way that will convince anyone of its culinary virtue. It’s very easy – don’t let the long method fool you.
6 bulbs of fennel
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Sea salt and pepper
¼ cup of mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter or 1 tablespoon of good olive oil
Choose the biggest sauté pan you have. It must have a lid for this to work, though you can fashion a make-shift one out of kitchen foil.
Trim the tops from the fennel, reserving the feathery fronds and then discard any badly bruised outer leaves. Finely chop the feathery bits. Carefully trim the root end, leaving it in tact. Cut in half from top to bottom and set aside.
Warm the oil in the pan over a medium-high heat and toss in the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and herbs. Cook, still stirring, until the onion just starts to brown.
Push the onions to one side of the pan. Add the fennel, cut side down, in a single layer. Spoon the onions around the fennel, sprinkle in a little salt and pepper then add one cup of water. Cover tightly with a lid (or some foil if you’re sans lid), lower the heat to medium and cook until the liquid has mostly off (about 10-12 minutes).
Give some of the onions a stir, taking care not to move the fennel. Add ½ cup of water, pop your lid back on and bubble away for 15-20 minutes. It should be tender but still a little firm when pierced with a sharp knife.
Remove the fennel from the pan to a plate. Pour in the mirin and ¼ cup of water. Add the butter and scraping the caramelized bits from the pan as you go, stir well. When it’s reduced by roughly half, add the chopped feathery fennel tops.
Place a mound of lentils on four plates, distribute the fennel, cut-side-up and spoon the sauce over the top of the fennel.