I find it interesting to unpick a recipe I’ve created to try and pinpoint the crucial moments of inspiration that lead to its being. If I think about it, this recipe has roots back to two different meals I’ve eaten at two different restaurants, one Mary-Ellen McTague Guardian recipe, a butter bean and feta recipe I tweaked and cooked from Ottolenghi’s Plenty book and one of my own go-to recipes for tapenade.
The main bulk of this recipe was born from reading that McTague recipe, a method for braising fennel in orange juice and stock. I added anchovies and almonds, having eaten something similar at the Camberwell Arms. I also threw in some butter beans for added protein and bulk, as per the Ottolenghi recipe I adored.
The tapenade I added for contrast. Finally, I finished the dish with parmesan – inspired loosely by a simple, stunning dish of chickpeas and parmesan I ate at Polpetto. So there you have it – a map of foodie inspiration from memories and experiences of all kinds.
This is going to be noted down as my new favourite way to cook fennel. It’s fantastic and you need to try it as an alternative to roasted fennel if you haven’t already. The orange and stock reduces to a syrup enriched with the umami tang of anchovies. The tapenade (which I made garlic-free tonight) provided a light and zingy foil to the soft, caramelised fennel. The almonds provided a welcome crunch. Give this a go if you’re bored of your veg-based dinners revolving around salad.
You will need:
3 bulbs of fennel
Knob of butter
2 tbspn olive oil
The juice of 2 oranges
1 tin of anchovy fillets (30g)
250ml chicken stock
300g tin of butter beans, drained
Freshly cracked black pepper
150g green and black pitted olives, very finely chopped
50g chopped cornichons or capers (I had no capers so substituted cornichons which were nice for a change, if unauthentic!)
Large handful of very finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbspns toasted almonds
20 shavings of parmesan
Start with the fennel. Carefully slice off the bases but keep the fennel in tact. Remove and trim the stalky green tops then cut the main fennel bulbs into quarters.
Heat the butter in a deep frying pan with half the olive oil. Add the fennel wedges cut side down and cook over a medium heat until they start to caramelise. Add the stock and orange juice, plus half the anchovy fillets.
Cook on a steady simmer for 40 minutes or so until the stock has almost completely reduced and turned syrupy, turning the wedges halfway through cooking. Add the butter beans towards the end of cooking and allow to warm through and brown slightly in the gently reducing syrup for 5 minutes. Season well with black pepper.
While your fennel cooks make the tapenade by finely chopping the remaining anchovy fillets and mixing these with the oil in the anchovy tin. Mix in the chopped olives, lemon juice, parsley, some black pepper, the remaining olive oil and the chopped capers/cornichons. Taste to check seasoning and set aside until needed.
Serve the cooked fennel and beans warm with the tapenade spooned over the top. Scatter with the almonds and parmesan then serve.