Monday, 27 April 2015

Cooking with Booze: Vermouth Braised Fennel with Butter & Parmesan

Ah, Monday... So begins another week.

I don’t know about you, but my Monday’s are usually filled with good intentions. Be it hard work, health or housecleaning, having a ‘fresh start’ on a Monday, where you can wipe your slate clean if needs be, gives you enough positivity to see you through to Friday.

Don’t worry; I’m not going all spiritual or preachy on you. Sometimes a good intention could simply be to shake up your weekly routine, to try something new, or to make the effort to cook something completely different for dinner one night. Hell, why not combine the three! (You can see where I’m going with this can’t you?)

Last week, with my recent abundance of acquired Contratto Vermouths, I thought that I should attempt to do something other than just drink them. Madness, I know, but being quite a keen cook, I went on the hunt for a vermouth-y recipe to tackle. Now, as it was mid-week, I didn’t want to slave over the stove for hours on end after work, so it had to be something pretty straightforward.

A bit of Googling uncovered a Simon Hopkinson recipe that took my fancy; Vermouth Braised Fennel with Butter and Parmesan. I tweaked it a teeny bit, but although it technically takes just over an hour, it’s easy peasy, and leaving it to do its thing in the oven means you can get on with whatever else you need to do.

So, faaaaabulous fennel! Its aniseed flavour can split opinions, and eating it raw is totally different to eating it cooked. Cooking it transforms it from a crunchy celery-like bulb, to a soft, supple, and liquorice-sweet vegetable. Braising it in vermouth deepens its flavour, and although it adds sweetness, the butter and parmesan make sure there’s a salty savoury stamp on it. It’s delicious.

Simon Hopkinson tells us that this dish is a perfect partner to roast lamb, yes please, but it is also a great veggie dish on its own. In which case, I’d put some carbs with it, some lentils or pearl barley cooked in stock (that’s what I did, with a nice salad), pasta tossed in olive oil and parmesan, or even some polenta. Alternatively, fennel is often paired with fish, so a chunky piece of white fish – modestly seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon – would probably do it too.

And what to drink with it? Well, if you’re going down the lamb route, then maybe re-read Laura’s Easter post on what to drink with roast lamb, and probably plump for Chianti. For everything else, it really depends on what you’re putting with the fennel, whether it will be the main attraction or not. You could keep it Italian with a dry white, perhaps a Soave, or even venture to Riesling and Chardonnay territories...

Whatever you choose, just make sure your good intention this week is to bloody enjoy it!

Vermouth Braised Fennel with Butter & Parmesan

(serves 2 as a side dish)

Ingredients

  • 1 large fennel bulb (approx 350-400g) trimmed, halved, trimmings reserved
  • 25g butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp dry vermouth
  • a generous splash pastis (optional, alternatively add more dry vermouth)
  • 30g parmesan (or similar vegetarian hard cheese), grated, plus extra for serving

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
  2. Melt the butter in a casserole dish over a low heat (or use any ovenproof pan with a lid). Place the fennel into the butter cut-side down, and scatter around the trimmings. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and crank up the heat.
  3. Add the vermouth and pastis (or more vermouth). Cover with a sheet of foil loosely pressed down on the vegetables, and put the lid on top. Place into the oven to cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the dish from the oven and turn the fennel halves over. Add a splash of water if it’s looking a little dry. Re-cover and return to the oven to cook for a further 30 minutes, or until very tender when poked with a knife.
  5. Preheat the grill to high. Remove the fennel from the dish, place in a shallow oven-proof dish cut-side up, cover with foil and place in the bottom of the oven while you make the sauce.
  6. Pour the trimmings and cooking juices through a fine sieve suspended over a small pan. Warm through and add two thirds of the parmesan. Blend with a hand blender until it’s a smooth and creamy consistency.
  7. Spoon the mixture over the fennel, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and place under the grill. Cook until the surface is pale golden-brown, the parmesan should be just bubbling around the edges.
  8. Serve with an extra grating of parmesan if you wish.

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