Saturday 17 September 2011

Baked Fennel with Tomatoes and Olives

This is a fabulous dish to serve for dinner when you are having friends round.  It can be prepared well in advance, then baked when you're ready and it never seems to mind hanging around in the oven a little longer than necessary!

Not only that, the flavour of the fennel is so delicious and a little out of the ordinary.  It goes well as a side dish with fish, or as a main course with pasta or simply as an accompaniment to other vegetables.

For this recipe, I usually blanch the fennel in boiling water to speed up the baking time.  If you don't have fresh ripe tomatoes, use a well drained tin of plum tomatoes instead.

Ingredients            Serves 4

2 medium bulbs fennel
350g tomatoes
50g pitted black olives
2 cloves garlic 
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
About half a tbsp fresh thyme


Wash the fennel and trim away the feathery fronds to use as a garnish.  

Slice a thin layer from the base and remove any outer layers that are discoloured.    Quarter the fennel bulbs, then cut each quarter in half. 

Cook in boiling salted water until just tender  - this usually takes about 10 minutes. Remove the fennel from the pan with a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking water.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas Mark 7.

Place the drained fennel in a single layer in a shallow gratin dish. 

Then place the tomatoes in the hot fennel water to remove the skins. After a minute, transfer the tomatoes to a chopping board using a slotted spoon.  The skins should peel away easily.

Leave the tomatoes whole if you are using the cherry variety or cut into quarters if they are larger.  Scatter the tomatoes and the black olives over the top of the fennel.  

Peel and finely chop the garlic and sprinkle over the vegetables, together with the thyme.  Add a good seasoning of salt and pepper.

Finally, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time,  baste the fennel with the juices in the dish.

Serve as a side dish with fish,  as a main course with pasta or simply as an accompaniment to other vegetables.

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