Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sicilian-Style Fennel with Orange and Olives

Oh my heavens you are going to love this! Williams-Sonoma did this as a slow-cooker recipe, but I think it should be made in a Dutch oven on the stove top. It took me less than an hour, refrigerator to dinner table. Jeff and I have strange dreams if we over-eat fennel (does that happen to you, or is it just us?) but this is so good, we both just went for broke. Everything comes together so perfectly: hot, sweet, citrus, tart, salt - my mouth didn't know where to go first! YUM! Serves 4

2 fennel bulbs
1 large shallot, minced (about 1/2 c)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 TB dry white wine
1 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 c homemade chicken stock
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 orange
1/2 c Niçoise olives*

*If at all possible, get your olives from a deli or specialty food store. They are much more flavorful and way less salty than those in the salad bar at the grocery store. Niçoise aren't usually pitted. If this is an issue for you, use Kalamata olives instead. Just don't use the bland, sweet-ish black olives that come in a can!

Preparing your fennel:

Cut off the tops and save a little of the fronds (feathery bits) for garnish. Cut the bulb into 4ths, then halve each again for a total of 8 wedges per bulb. Use a paring knife to cut away most of the hard core in the center bottom of the bulb, but leave just a little bit so each wedge holds together. 

Heat 2 TB EVOO in a small Dutch oven or deep-sided cast-iron pan over medium heat. Saute the shallots for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute another 3 minutes or so, till everything starts to soften but not turn brown. Add the wine and vinegar, stir to loosen up any bits, then add the chicken stock, oregano, a little less than 1/2 tsp salt, and about 5 or 6 grinds of pepper. Stir to combine everything and bring to a simmer.

Add your fennel wedges. Pick the pan up off the stove and swirl around to help cover the fennel with all the good stuff. Gently turn with tongs to finish coating. 

Cover tightly and simmer on low for about 40 minutes, turning the pieces gently a couple of times during the cooking process to make sure everything cooks evenly. The fennel should be soft but not mushy, kind of like the texture (but not taste!) of a rib of cooked cabbage. The sauce will have cooked down a lot, and this is why you don't want to over-salt in the beginning of the cooking process. Taste now to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or acid (a splash of wine or vinegar).

While the fennel is cooking, prep your orange. Zest it first, then use a paring knife to "supreme" it. Cut each end off. Stand it on one end and use a paring knife to cut all the skin and pith away. Then slice down both sides of each section, cutting away the orange pieces like this:

Cut each orange piece in half to make 2 "chunks". 

Now you're ready to assemble the dish. I just had to show you my "Italy" serving plate. It was a wedding present from my very dear friend Margaret H. and I think of her every time I use it. I thought it was fitting, since this is a real Sicilian dish! (Yes, I know Florence is far to the north of Sicily, but it's still Italy!

Combine the fennel, olives, orange zest and pieces in a serving dish and toss to combine, being careful not to smush the orange pieces. Garnish with bits of saved fennel frond. Remember two things as you eat: 1) your olives may have pits - don't crack a tooth on them, and 2) the fennel chunks have a little bit of core holding them together. Jeff doesn't mind eating it, I cut mine away.
Era buono pazzesco!


  1. ummmmm YUM. making this next week!!!

    1. Arorra I only just saw your comment today! Did you have a chance to try this, and did you love it?