Sicilian Braised Fennel with Orange Zest & Balsamic
This is an excellent and simple side dish, inspired by a recent visit to Sicily, where fennel “finocchio” grows wildly all over, and the unique, licorice flavor is a great accompaniment or enhancement to many dishes. One of the most common ways to serve fennel is braised. While fennel is enjoyed throughout Italy, what makes this “Sicilian-inspired” is the use of freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest, and optional pinch of red chili flakes to give it just a little heat (yes, Sicilians enjoy spices–the warmer the climate, the more spices are prevalent), and summer in Sicily can be hot!
Serves 4 as a side dish
2 heads of fennel (bulbs and stalks) (approx. 1/2 pound each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
juice of 1 orange
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
good quality balsamic vinegar or syrup, or saba (drizzle over the top at the end)
zest of 1 orange
optional pinch of red chili flakes (while cooking to add extra heat to the entire dish, or at the table, to add pungent bites without making the entire dish “hotter”)>
Slice the stalks off the fennel and set aside (a small amount to garnish each plate, and the rest for other uses, if desired). Rinse and slice the fennel bulbs lengthwise into approximately 1/2 inch slices. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced fennel, season with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides (3-4 minutes). Stir in the chicken stock, orange juice, and sliced garlic. Add chili flakes to taste now if you desire a spicier dish (otherwise wait until serving, or omit). Allow to come to a boil, then turn heat down to low-medium and simmer the ingredients with a cover for about 20 minutes, stir occasionally to keep from sticking/burning as the liquid evaporates. It should be fork tender and slightly caramelized.
Plate in a large serving dish or on individual side plates, drizzle balsamic or saba, grate orange zest over the top and place fennel fronds as garnish. This is excellent with grilled seafood or meat.