Thursday, February 18, 2010
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Fennel
Fennel is a pretty interesting plant. It is often used as an herb in French and Italian cooking. It's great for digestion because it prohibits cramping of the smooth muscle in the intestinal tract. It tastes like licorice-flavored celery and can be eaten cooked or raw. Fennel's natural season is in the spring and early summer, which is why fennel's flavor is much milder in the winter if it is grown year-round.
I stumbled upon this recipe in The New Vegan Cookbook, and had to try it. Although it takes a while to slow roast the tomatoes and fennel, the results are well worth it. The tomatoes literally melt in your mouth. If you're a big tomato fan like me, this is divine! I used much smaller tomatoes than the recipe called for, but I think they turned out great.
Serves 4 to 6.
Olive oil for drizzling
2 pounds plum tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
2 Medium fennel bulbs or 1 large bulb
1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar syrup for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Select one or two baking sheets large enough to arrange the tomatoes in one layer and brush with oil. Arrange the tomatoes on the sheets cut side up and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Set aside.
Select a heavy roasting pan or large gratin dish for the fennel (it does not have to fit in a single layer), and brush the bottom with oil. Remove any fennel fronds and set aside for garnish. Cut the top stalks from the fennel and reserve for stock (or juice!). Trim the base, and quarter each bulb, top to base. Discard any tough or bruised outer layers. Slice the quartered bulbs 1/4 inch thick, leaving the core as intact as possible to hold the layers together. (This won't be possible with all of the slices.) Set in the roasting pan, seasoning lightly with salt and drizzling with olive oil. Cover the pan tightly with foil.
Bake the tomatoes until collapsed and shriveled, 2 - 2 1/2 hours. (For the first hour or so, it will look like nothing is happening.) At the same time, bake the fennel until tender and easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Once the fennel is tender, you can roast it uncovered to brown it and achieve a more intense flavor.
To serve, arrange the fennel and tomatoes decoratively on small plates and drizzle with olive oil. Finely chop the reserved fennel fronds and use them as a garnish. If you wish, dot a few drops of balsamic syrup decoratively around the plate.