Ok you guys. The main dish here was pork loin braised in milk, adapted from Marcella Hazan by Molly Stevens in All About Braising. It’s the second time I’ve made a version of this recipe (the first was from a different book) and I’m still underwhelmed. No more! So instead of focusing on the pork, lets talk about the side dish, which was also from All About Braising.
Fennel Braised with Thyme & Black Olives.
There. It sounds a little random, doesn’t it? But Stevens recommended it with the pork, and I had some fennel in the fridge and figured I might as well buy more in order to use up what I had (this is logical), so off I went.
Fennel Braised with Thyme & Black Olives
Loosely paraphrased from Molly Stevens
3 large or 4 medium fennel bulbs (it’s supposed to be about 3 lbs. total; I didn’t have quite that much I don’t think)
3 T olive oil
Coarse salt and black pepper
1/2 cup pitted oil-cured olives (she suggests Nyons or Moroccan)
2 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 anchovy fillets, minced
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
1/3 c. dry white wine or dry white vermouth
3/4 c. chicken stock
(The minced anchovies: DON’T BE SCARED, it really doesn’t taste fishy in the end. Anchovies are your friends, or so my mother always insists. Speaking of scared, after a speared the fillets out of their little jars and examined them, I called Mom in a panic to find out if I had to remove all trillion tiny bones. No, she said: They dissolve. Whew.)
Preheat the oven to 325 and get out a not-too-large casserole or roasting pan.
Cut the ferny fronds off the fennel bulbs, right down to where the bulb starts. (I stuck the tops in a vase of water and they’re still very fluffy and pretty a week and a half later.) Quarter each bulb, leaving the core intact. Removing it means your quarters will slide everywhere and not be nearly as pretty!
Heat 2 T of oil in a big heavy skillet and brown the cut sides of the fennel quarters. Don’t worry that they brown unevenly. Set the quarters cut sides up in your roasting pan, nestling them snugly together. Don’t use too big of a pan. Sprinkle the olives over them.
Put the anchovy, spices, thyme and garlic in a small pan and mush them together into a paste.
Add the wine or vermouth, bring to a boil, reduce by half. This smells amazing. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Pour over the fennel.
Doesn’t that look smashing? I wanted to eat it right then. Instead:
Cover tightly with foil and braise until the cores are tender when poked with a thin knife, about an hour and 15 minutes. If you saved the fluffy tops you can chop up a couple tablespoons and sprinkle them on top before serving hot or at room temperature. (I forgot to do that.)
Finished and poorly lit, with the pork:
Oh, and before that we had my old standby cauliflower soup (soften a chopped onion in a bit of oil; add in a hacked-up head of cauliflower, cover with stock, simmer 20 minute or so until the cauliflower is soft; puree with an immersion blender until it’s nice and smooth–easiest soup ever):
It was a very neutral-colored meal. Hmm. I loved the fennel–it takes on a texture sort of like bok choy when it’s braised; kind of watery but in a good way. The sharp licorice flavor is WAY tempered. The olives are essential, I was surprised by what a nice strong note they gave each bite. Yum.