Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi

Warm, com­fort­ing fen­nel dishes. Plus Wine, The good mixer

The Guardian - Weekend - - Starters Contents - Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi

Iate some fen­nel dumplings in Si­cily last sum­mer that knocked my socks off. I eat a lot of dumplings, wher­ever and when­ever I can, so it’s rare to come across any that truly sur­prise me, but these some­how man­aged to show­case their main in­gre­di­ents – the fen­nel, cur­rants, parme­san and tomato that are so char­ac­ter­is­tic of Si­cil­ian cook­ing – while hav­ing such a depth of flavour that I was sure some­thing else had to be go­ing on in there. At first I thought it must be some se­cret in­gre­di­ent – was there a lit­tle mince in there, maybe? – but it turned out to be the way the fen­nel was cooked.

Eat­ing, and cook­ing, as much as I do, at first I found my ig­no­rance rather thrilling, but that soon turned to frus­tra­tion when I tried to recre­ate those dumplings back home. I stayed none the wiser un­til I stum­bled upon a blog­post that shone light on the sub­ject: the trick, it turns out, is to cook the fen­nel un­til soft be­fore mix­ing it with breadcrumbs (which do so much work be­hind the scenes in Si­cil­ian kitchens). Cook­ing it right down turns fen­nel into some­thing very dif­fer­ent from the thin, raw slices we have in sal­ads, and is just one way to show how this lit­tle bulb pro­vides com­fort and warmth as we move from one sea­son to the next.

Quick fen­nel and onion chut­ney

I call this a chut­ney, al­though, un­like most chut­neys, you serve it straight away. It’s re­ally ver­sa­tile, work­ing as well on a cheese­board as along­side roast pork. It keeps in the fridge for up to a week. Makes one 600ml jar.

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp fen­nel seeds

2 small fen­nel bulbs, trimmed (300g net weight), cut in half length­ways, then width­ways into 1-2mm-thick slices (use a man­do­line, ide­ally) 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced (300g net weight)

25g soft dark brown sugar

1 lemon, peel shaved off in 3 wide strips (avoid the bit­ter white pith) 2 tsp urfa chilli flakes (or 1 tsp if us­ing an­other va­ri­ety of chilli)

Salt

2 tbsp cur­rants

3 tbsp white-wine vine­gar

In large saucepan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on a medium flame, then toast the fen­nel seeds, stir­ring, for 30 sec­onds, un­til fra­grant and start­ing to brown. Add the fen­nel, onion, sugar, lemon peel, half the chilli and half a tea­spoon of salt, and fry for eight to nine min­utes, stir­ring of­ten, un­til the veg­eta­bles soften. Add the cur­rants and 350ml wa­ter, turn the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 30 min­utes, stir­ring now and then. Take off the lid and cook for 15 min­utes, stir­ring of­ten, un­til thick and glossy. Add the vine­gar and re­main­ing chilli, and cook for a fi­nal five min­utes, stir­ring once or twice. Leave to cool be­fore serv­ing.

Roast fen­nel with black bar­ley and smoked had­dock

Use pot bar­ley in­stead, if that’s all you have. Serves four.

2 medium fen­nel bulbs, green stems roughly chopped, bulbs cut length­ways into 6 wedges (650g net weight)

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and black pep­per 10g un­salted but­ter

2 ba­nana shal­lots, peeled and finely chopped

5g thyme sprigs

½ tsp fen­nel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

170g black (or pot) bar­ley, rinsed 80ml white wine

600ml veg­etable stock

200g smoked had­dock (undyed) 5g tar­ragon, roughly chopped 10g pars­ley, roughly chopped 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. In a bowl, toss the fen­nel wedges with a ta­ble­spoon of oil, half a tea­spoon of salt and a good grind of pep­per. Spread out on an oven tray lined with bak­ing pa­per, and roast for 40 min­utes, un­til soft and golden. Re­move and keep some­where warm.

Mean­while, melt the but­ter and re­main­ing ta­ble­spoon of oil in a large saute pan on a medium heat. Add the shal­lots, thyme, fen­nel stems and fen­nel seeds, and cook for five min­utes, stir­ring a few times, un­til the shal­lots and fen­nel are soft. Stir through the bar­ley and cook for a minute, to warm through. Add the wine, re­duce for a minute, then add the stock, a half-tea­spoon of salt and plenty of pep­per. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low and leave to sim­mer for 40 min­utes (25 min­utes for pot bar­ley), un­til the bar­ley is al­most cooked.

Ten min­utes be­fore the bar­ley is ready, fill a medium saucepan with 300ml wa­ter. Add the had­dock, put the pan on a high heat and bring to a to boil. Im­me­di­ately lift the fish out of the wa­ter and set aside. Pour 150ml of the fish wa­ter into the bar­ley and cook for about 10 min­utes, un­til most of the wa­ter has evap­o­rated and the bar­ley is cooked but still has a bite.

Stir the herbs into the bar­ley. Break the fish into big chunks, dis­card­ing the skin, add to the bar­ley and mix through very gen­tly. Di­vide be­tween four plates and ar­range the warm fen­nel wedges on top. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Si­cil­ian fen­nel and parme­san dumplings in tomato sauce

Make eight dumplings, to serve four as a first course.

For the dumplings

1 large fen­nel bulb, trimmed and cut into 0.5cm dice (400g net weight) 15g cur­rants

20g pine nuts, roughly chopped

½ tsp fen­nel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed

⅛ tsp freshly ground nut­meg

2 slices sour­dough, crusts re­moved and dis­carded, then blitzed to fine crumbs (80g net weight)

50g parme­san, finely grated Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

2 eggs, beaten

30g dill, finely chopped

10g basil leaves, finely chopped Salt and pep­per

2 tbsp veg­etable oil, to fry

For the sauce

1½ tbsp olive oil, plus 1-2 tbsp ex­tra, to serve

2 gar­lic cloves, peeled and crushed 1 onion, peeled and cut into 0.5cm dice (150g net weight)

250g cherry tomatoes

180ml pas­sata

¾ tbsp caster sugar

10g basil leaves, finely chopped, plus ex­tra to gar­nish

Bring a medium pan of wa­ter to a boil, add the fen­nel and cook on medium-high heat for 15 min­utes. Add the cur­rants, cook for five min­utes more, then strain through a fine sieve and leave to cool. Trans­fer the fen­nel and cur­rants to a clean tea towel or muslin, squeeze out as much liq­uid as you can (if you don’t do this, the dumplings will be soggy and won’t hold their shape), then put in the fridge un­til cold.

Put all the re­main­ing dumpling in­gre­di­ents apart from the oil in a medium bowl with half a tea­spoon of salt and a good grind of pep­per. Mix well, then re­frig­er­ate.

For the sauce, in a large non­stick fry­ing pan for which you have a lid heat the olive oil on a medium-high flame. Saute the gar­lic, onion and a quar­ter-tea­spoon of salt for five min­utes, stir­ring, un­til the onions are soft and golden, then add the →

cherry tomatoes and cook for three min­utes, un­til they start to soften. Add the pas­sata, sugar, basil, 180ml wa­ter and a gen­er­ous grind of pep­per. Stir to com­bine, turn down the heat to medium and sim­mer, cov­ered, for 20 min­utes, stir­ring a few times. (If the sauce starts to stick to the base of the pan, add a bit more wa­ter.) Re­move the pan from the heat, leave to cool slightly, then trans­fer to a blender (if you don’t have a free-stand­ing one, use with a hand-held stick blender). Process un­til the sauce is very smooth and vel­vety, then re­turn it to the pan.

Now you’re ready to make the dumplings. Put the cooled fen­nel and cur­rants in a bowl with the bread and egg mix­ture and, us­ing your hands, form into eight round dumplings, each weigh­ing about 50-60g. As you shape them, squeeze and com­press the mix­ture as much as pos­si­ble; this will help en­sure that they don’t fall apart when cook­ing.

Heat the veg­etable oil in a large non­stick fry­ing pan on a medium heat. Once hot, add the dumplings and fry for seven to eight min­utes in to­tal, turn­ing them over once or twice, so they colour all over, and very gen­tly mov­ing them around in the pan, so they don’t stick. Once the dumplings are crisp and golden all over, turn off the heat and, us­ing a slot­ted spoon, care­fully lower them into the pan with the tomato sauce. Gen­tly turn the dumplings in the sauce, so that they’re all coated in it, then re­turn the pan to a lowmedium heat, cover, and leave to sim­mer for 15 min­utes. Check the dumplings halfway through the cook­ing time: if the sauce is sim­mer­ing or re­duc­ing too much, turn down the heat.

Serve the dumplings and sauce hot or warm, fin­ish­ing them off with a driz­zle of olive oil, a sprin­kle of basil and a lit­tle salt and pep­per • @ot­tolenghi

Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi is chef/pa­tron of Ot­tolenghi and Nopi in Lon­don.

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