Caramelized Fennel is really a form of vegetable candy. Sautéing enhances fennel’s sweet anise flavor. Adding candied anise and fennel seeds intensifies the taste. The bright fresh flavors of fresh lemon, dill, fennel fronds and garlic ensure the Caramelized Fennel doesn’t become too cloyingly sweet.
As a true fennel fan, I let bronze fennel reseed freely in my pollinator garden. Fennel happens to also be a top host and nectar plant for swallowtail butterflies and yellow goldfinches adore the seeds. The bulbs never amount to much, so throughout the winter I use fronds from the many pop-up plants to flavor my vegetable dishes.
This recipe is built on a recipe from one of my favorite veggie-centric cookbooks, Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. I’ve made my version a Two-in-One recipe by giving the option to stop cooking after sautéing the fennel into bronzed sweetness OR adding one more step to for brothy braised fennel in wine and chicken broth. It’s a matter of taste….softened fennel slices with crunchy browned bits or a tangled mass of syrupy fennel slices. Both dishes have a condensed sweet licorice flavor. Both will remind you why you like fennel and need to make it more often.
Two-in-One Caramelized Fennel Recipe
2 lbs. fennel
1 small red onion, cut in quarters then 1/3” slices
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp anise seeds
1 large garlic clove
¼ cup fennel fronds, roughly chopped
¼ cup dill, roughly chopped
1 Tbs. lemon zest
¼ cup dry white wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup chicken broth (or water for vegetarian option)
- Trim fennel fronds off fennel bulbs. Cut fennel bulbs in half lengthwise, take out core and slice lengthwise into thin 1/3” strips.
- In large sauté pan over medium low heat slowly sauté fennel with onions in oil and butter until soft and nicely browned; about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir frequently.
- Add sugar, fennel and anise and cook until sugar melts and caramelizes; about a minute or two.
- At this point you can remove the crispy golden fennel from the pan, add garlic, fennel fronds, dill, lemon, and serve. OR hold off adding the garlic, herbs and lemon and continue on to the next step.
- To braise: Add wine to pan and reduce until almost evaporated; about 3-5 minutes. Add chicken broth and braise covered for an additional 15-20 minutes. Add more broth or water if needed. Remove when meltingly soft and syrupy. Add the garlic, fennel fronds, dill, lemon, and serve.