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The profile of this dish can easily be changed by altering the spices. Go with thyme, marjoram and fennel seed for a French flare-you could even add some lavender- or use oregano or sage for a more Italian turn. Use some Moroccan spices and go North African/Mid-East. Curry will take you to India, and you can add hot chili for an incendiary approach or use fennel seed with a sweet curry for mild but fragrant. Use this for topping fish, boneless chicken breasts or cubed chicken chunks, or cut cauliflower into large pieces and roast them after oiling and seasoning. You could serve at room temp or cold as part of a mezze or thali lunch. It would also do well with cooked chickpeas or kidney beans heated up in it. This is the iteration for roast cauliflower, or for topping fish or even shrimp.
1 large fennel head (around 1-2 cups) cut into ¼ inch dice, stalks removed and used for something else, 1 tablespoon fronds reserved and chopped
2 brown or white onions (around 2 cups), cut into ¼ inch dice
2-3 cups (4-5) tomatoes, skinned if skin is tough, seeded with liquid reserved, cut into ¼ inch pieces (Use canned diced tomatoes if fresh are not to be had)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sweet mild curry powder, or as needed
¼ teaspoon fennel seed, powdered in a mill or mortar and pestle
Neutral flavored oil such as grapeseed or avocado, as needed, or ghee if you prefer
Sugar if needed
Heat a 2 quart chef’s pan or sauteuse over medium heat. When hot, film pan with oil. When oil is hot, add half the curry and stir in. Add in the fennel powder and stir. When fragrant, add the fennel and onion and toss to coat. Lower heat and cook gently until the fennel is just tender. Try not to brown the fennel and onion.
Add the rest of the curry and add the ginger. Stir to incorporate and then add the tomatoes and any liquid from them. Stir well and simmer to render the tomatoes soft. Stir, breaking down some of the tomato so it renders into an almost jammy state.
Taste the sauce. If needed, add a pinch of sugar. Taste for balance and adjust. Add more curry if needed, or vinegar if the sauce needs a little snap-use rice or white wine vinegar if this happens). You can add the curry straight in, or heat some butter or ghee and add the curry to that, and then pour it into the sauce and stir in. If the sauce is ready, add the fennel fronds and stir in. Use now, or cool and re-heat later, or use cool.
Chef’s Notes: Use a spicy curry/garam masala, or add chili powder to the curry. You could also use pickled mustard seeds for a great flavor boots and a fun texture. This will push this towards a chutney, but only a little. Instead of this spicing, use a tablespoon of fresh oregano and thyme, or half that of dried herbs. Add a clove or two of minced garlic after the fennel and onion are cooked and skip the ginger. If you wish to, add chili flakes for Italy or Piment d’Espelette for France. Go with some ras el hanout, or cinnamon, pepper, and urfa biber for a Mid-East twist. Use any of these with grilled fish or grilled or boiled shrimp, roast cauliflower/romanesco, or chunks of grilled chicken or even stewed lamb or big chunks of firm tofu braised in the sauce.
Yield: Around 4 cups
Source: Chef Andrew E Cohen
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