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2-3 medium to large Fennel bulbs, stalks removed and halved through the root with the width, 1 frond reserved if you wish
½ large brown onion, peeled and cut through the root
Vegetable stock or water as needed (Around 1 cup)
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pea sized bits
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon fresh thyme
Olive oil as needed
Heat the oven to 425°F. Cut most of the core from the fennel bulbs. Leave a little so the layers stay connected. Then, using a thin sharp knife, make slices all the way to the cutting board from the top of the bulb towards the root end, but do not slice all the way through. The root should remain as a whole unit. Thinly slice the onion lengthwise, following the curve of the onion rather than cutting straight down. This gives more even slices. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. When hot, film the bottom and heat the oil. When hot, add the onions and toss to coat. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring to prevent scorching and ensuring even cooking, until onions are very soft and caramelized some. Transfer the onions to a pan that is oven/stovetop safe and just large enough to hold the onions and fennel bulbs. Spread the onion over the pan bottom, then place the fennel bulb halves in the pan so they are flat with a bit of space between them. Brush with a little olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.
Heat up some stock or water, almost to a boil. Pour enough around the fennel bulbs to come 1/3rd the way up the fennel. Sprinkle the sugar, or drizzle the honey, around the fennel into the hot liquid. It’s fine if some gets onto the fennel. Add the butter bits around the fennel, and then sprinkle with the thyme. If you wish to up the fennel flavor, take a couple sprigs of the frond and place around the bulbs in the liquid. Drizzle the bulbs with a little of the liquid in the pan, then seal up tightly with foil. Place in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the fennel. It should be easily pierced by the tip of a sharp knife. If the fennel is tender, use a spatula to gently press down on the bulbs at an angle so the fennel fans out just a little. Baste with juices in the pan. Leave uncovered and return the fennel to the oven, on a shelf near the top. Cook for 15 minutes or until the bulbs are golden. The liquid should have cooked down to a syrup. If not, remove the fennel to a serving plate and reduce the pan liquid over medium-high heat on the stove-top until it is syrupy, then paint it over the fennel. Serve hot.
Chef’s Notes and Tips:
You can broil the fennel for a more golden color. You could add apple slices and a little apple juice to the mix for nice flavor and a glaze as well. Blood orange juice and olives could be an interesting combo as well-sweet/tart/and salty all at once.
Source: Chef Andrew E Cohen
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