My palate can be something of a paradox. I love grapes, but I can’t stand raisins. I adore fennel but I will not put licorice in my mouth.
Contradiction, thy name is Nishta? True in more ways than just the culinary. Of course, I think we’re all like this in one way or another. I had a vegetarian friend in graduate school who caved every few months for an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, of all things. Jill hunts birds, bringing duck and dove home for us to eat, while at the same time obsessively filling our backyard feeders for the ducks and doves who visit. And this week I discovered that my friend Ben, who normally eschews desserts of all kinds, does have one sweet-toothed weakness: the famous and famously-difficult-to-make Dobos torte. Of course.
Fennel is not universally popular, probably because it gets lumped into the “eww gross” category by those of us who profoundly dislike anything licorice-flavored. (Just the thought of those black-paper-wrapped candies from the “bad houses” on Halloween night makes me shudder.) But I find that, when prepared deftly, fennel betrays satisfying sweetness and delivers a crunch I quite enjoy. I mostly use fennel raw, in salads, where it pairs particularly well with citrus, but this braised version is quite elegant and hearty.
We human beings may not be logically consistent in our tastes and habits, but I like to think that’s what makes us all so fascinating.
BRAISED FENNEL WITH MEYER LEMON & PARMESAN
as printed in the New York Times Magazine
It’s the right time of year for Meyer lemons, and they are so magical. Use them! If you have extra, you can make these cookies, too.
2 fennel bulbs with fronds attached
½ cup chicken broth
Grated peel and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place a large, wide skillet over medium-high heat, adding just enough olive oil to coat the pan. When hot, lay half of the fennel flat in the pan and cook about three minutes, or until browned on the bottom. Don’t stir the fennel!
Flip the fennel pieces and cook another minute or two on the second side. Transfer to a bowl and cook the remaining fennel, adding more olive oil to the skillet if needed. Season the cooked fennel with salt & pepper.
Return the skillet to medium high heat, adding the fennel, broth, lemon juice, and rind. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the fennel is tender, about 10 minutes.
Remove the fennel from the liquid using a slotted spoon, then raise the heat and reduce the sauce until syrupy, 3-5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the fennel, top with the reserved fronds, and garnish with shaved Parmesan to taste.