Braised Citrus Fennel
7-8 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 fresh fennel bulbs, washed and trimmed, sliced lengthwise into 5-6 wedges
1/2 cup shallots or red onions, chopped
2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon or orange juice
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp grated lemon or orange peel
1 garlic clove, minced or crushed in a press
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add half of the fennel slices. Caramelize them until they are deep golden on all sides, 6-8 minutes. Transfer them into a wide shallow glass baking dish. Add another 2 tbsp oil, bring the skillet back up to temperature, and repeat with the remaining fennel.
Mix shallots or onions, juice, parsley, zest in a small bowl. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Whisk in the remaining olive oil - 2 to 4 tbsp, depending (you may not need it all). Drizzle the impromptu dressing over the fennel and toss to coat.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the fennel is meltingly tender and the shallots or onions have started to caramelize, about 15-20 minutes more.
NOTES: I'd suggest using either lemon or orange, but not both. Because there are so few ingredients in this, you want to preserve some purity of flavor. Lemon will be brighter and zingier, orange will add more sweetness and floral fragrance. Whenever you're caramelizing anything - whether it's chicken or beef or vegetables - don't crowd the pan. If you do that, the food releases too much moisture at once, the temperature of the skillet drops, and you steam the food instead of searing it. That's why you should always sear in batches. The glass baking dish isn't just a decorative choice - the glass adds a little more insulation than a metal baking dish, which will allow you more temperature control. If all you have is metal, that's fine - you may want to lower the temperature a bit, or check on it more often to make sure nothing's burning. Also, the amount of oil you'll need is going to depend on the size of the fennel bulbs - you don't want them drowning in it, but you want to make sure they're all completely coated - the oil will act as a heat shield in the oven, making sure everything cooks through without burning.
Pairs Well With
This is a superb side dish, 50% light and clean, 50% unctuous and satisfying, and 100% flavorful. Fennel, which has a strong, bright licorice flavor, mellows and blends with the other ingredients while cooking to create a more complex taste and a tender, almost scoopable quality. Plus, it's easy to make and mostly hands-off; a great side to prepare and put in the oven, and not worry about while you're making the rest of your dinner.