Caramelized fennel was the very first dish I ever made in my kitchen. And although I cannot lay claim to the recipe (thanks once again to Yotam Ottolenghi), I do lay claim to the kitchen. It's my kitchen (even though it's Arti's kitchen too, and even though, technically, it is owned by the lady in California who gets our rent check every month), still, it's my kitchen. I cook in it whenever I want, and I don't need to ask if anyone minds. I never enter it surprised by someone else's sink full of dishes. If there are dishes in the sink, I know they're there. And I'll get to them when I get to them. There was a time when I found communal living interesting and exciting: that summer at the artist colony, when I lived in a tent and cooked in an outdoor kitchen--where there was no point in sweeping the floors because they were made of dirt, and the broom was used solely to chase out the chickens. I was younger then, and I had the energy for things like that. Nowadays, I can make it about as far as the corner bakery for a fresh baguette, I can open a bottle of wine, I can operate my iPhone insofar as I can get it to play podcasts of America's Test Kitchen, and I can caramelize the fennel. And it is well worth the effort.
4 small fennel bulbs
1 1/2 oz butter
3 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn sugar (I used agave syrup)
1 tspn fennel seeds
1 garlic clove
5 oz goat cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper
When preparing fennel, you have to cut away more than it seems like you should. Remove the bottom and the tops (reserving the fronds for garnish), and the tough outer layer. Then cut the fennel lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.
Over high heat, melt enough butter and oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and start cooking the fennel slices. It will take a few rounds to prepare all the fennel, so add more butter and oil as you need. It is important not to overcrowd the pan while frying the fennel (or anything you fry, really). Cook for about 2 minutes on each side until they have turned golden brown (this happens more easily if you let the fennel sit in the pan, and resist the urge to poke at it and move it around).
When the fennel is finished, add the agave (or sugar), fennel seeds, salt & pepper to the hot pan. Cook for about 30 seconds, then add back all the fennel and cook for about 2 minutes.
Toss with garlic, dill. Add dollops of goat cheese, sprinkles of lemon zest, a drizzle of olive oil. Garnish with fennel fronds if you're feeling fancy. This is delicious on its own, or with crusty bread and a glass of wine.