Fennel is a vegetable with a light, licorice flavor and it's delicious in soups, stews and sautés.
Ratatouille is a kitchen sink kind of dish, where you put in lots of fresh vegetables, add garlic, basil, tomatoes and simmer until you have a wonderful, thick stew. It was turned into an extraordinary, deconstructed chef masterpiece in the film of the same name.
This week, with two bulbs of fennel on hand, I made a small adjustments to the classic recipe by adding in the sautéed fennel bulbs. The delicate licorice taste of the vegetable really made the dish, and, just like any ratatouille, it was even better reheated the next day. I didn't put in fresh basil when I made it, because I was really enjoying the fennel flavor. I will next time, just to see how it goes. Peppers usually go into ratatouille as well; add sliced red or green bell pepper to the sauté pan if you like.
For a variation, put some fresh shrimp into the dish at the end and cook them until they are just tender. Ratatouille is also good used as a filling in an omelet.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and cut into slices about 1/4-inch thick. (Also, thinly slice some of the small stalks about an inch above the bulb, and mince some of the leaves, too. You can slice off some of the thick core on the bottom.)
1 medium yellow or white onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 medium zucchini, sliced into coins
1 Japanese eggplant, unpeeled, sliced into rounds
2 large, vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
Fresh basil, several large, fresh leaves, sliced, or to taste
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet or a good, heavy-bottomed saute pan. Add the sliced fennel and onion. Keep the heat on medium and let the slices sauté and turn them when they start to lightly caramelize. When the onions and fennel are starting to soften and are browning a little, add the garlic and cook another minute or two, stirring. Add the zucchini and eggplant and cook until these are just tender. Add the tomatoes and fold all the vegetables together, gently, and cook until the tomatoes are fully heated and beginning to melt into the other vegetables. Add basil, then season.
Makes 6-8 servings.
From Bonnie Walker