Recipe: Pan-cooked fennel and cherry tomatoes

Trying a bit of mise en place.
Trying a bit of mise en place.

This was kind of a riff on (a) the delicious pan-cooked cherry tomatoes my Aunt Cathy made for dinner the night before I left Basel; (b) my Dad’s love of fennel, once of the consequences of which is a lot of fennel-y tomato sauce for dinner; and (c) the absolutely fantastic side dish my Mom made for Christmas dinner pork loin, which involved onions, fennel, apple, and some vinegar (I think) cooking on the stove for a while. I got a fennel bulb at the market on my way home from the bus stop the day I arrived back in Cambridge, and quickly found this simple recipe for roasting fennel with cherry tomatoes.

Start out with olive oil, garlic, and fennel seeds, and cook until it smells good.
Start out with olive oil, garlic, and fennel seeds, and cook until it smells good.

Unfortunately, the oven (and the four hotplate burners attached, which halves our hob-cooking capacity) is apparently nonfunctional at the moment (especially unfortunate because I wanted to try making a granola-ish thing tomorrow), so I had to improvise. Pan-cooking was really the only alternative, but I knew that could kind of work. I made a kind of dressing from the juice of the lemon called for in the original recipe, plus some honey (substituting in for the called-for sugar), salt, and pepper, and stirred that in when I added the fennel. I thought the cherry tomatoes wouldn’t take very  long to cook, but I was kind of wrong…I really should have looked at something like this before starting. The real issue is that fennel, unless very thinly sliced, takes quite a long time to cook, and cherry tomatoes are best cooked for a short amount of time over high heat.

Fennel, about halfway done.
Fennel, about halfway done.
I stuck the tomatoes in the middle, hoping they'd get more intense heat there.
I stuck the tomatoes in the middle, hoping they’d get more intense heat there.

The results: not quite as good as any of the inspirations, but considering that I had no idea what I was doing, it was pretty tasty! Next time, I would add a bit more oil to the pan (things were sticking quite a lot, so I had to deglaze the pan with water a few times), add some more honey to the dressing, and maybe throw in some wholegrain mustard or mixed herbs. Or just make the original recipe in the oven. 🙂

Done!
Done!

Pan-Cooked Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes

Adapted from Food Network.

Yield: 2 servings.

1-2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp pepper (or to taste)
~1 pint cherry tomatoes

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and fennel seeds and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add fennel to pan. Mix together lemon juice and honey and pour over fennel; stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 20-30 minutes. If things start to stick too much or the fennel is browning a lot without softening, you can add some water, white wine, or lemon juice and scrape up the brown stuff in the bottom until it incorporates into a thin brown sauce, then cover the pan with a lid and let cook.

Add tomatoes and cook until skin bursts and the tomatoes are softened, about 10-15 minutes.

Serving suggestion: warm, over kale if you like that sort of thing (I found that the leftovers were fantastic when topped with kale and shaved Parmesan, then warmed up in the microwave). Would go well with roasted or pan-cooked salmon, white fish such as snapper, or chicken.

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