Deborah Madison suggests you leave the core intact when slicing the fennel as it’s what really holds the slices together. And you want to make sure to get some color/even a little char on the fennel before adding your cooking liquid. While I suggest folding in the fennel greens and chopped stalks here, I did reserve a few of the greens for a delicate garnish at the very end. Serve it however you’d like; fennel is typically really nice with fish or chicken, but for me it invites grains: heartier grains like farro, wheat berries or even barley would be really delicious in lieu of quinoa.
2 large fennel bulbs
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
Pinch of saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Finely chopped fennel stalks
Finely chopped fennel greens
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons capers
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
Cooked quinoa (or other favorite grain), for serving (optional)
Crumbled goat cheese, for serving (optional; omit if making vegan)
Chopped Italian parsley, for serving (optional)
Trim off the stalks and greens from the fennel bulbs and chop finely. Set aside. If the outer leaves of the bulbs look scarred, take a slice off the base and loosen them and set them aside for another use. Halve each bulb lengthwise and cut the halves into wedges about 1-2 inches thick.
Heat the olive oil in a wide saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and fennel seeds, crumble in the saffron and thyme, and then cook until the onions soften and the steam releases the color from the saffron, about 7-10 minutes. Add the fennel wedges and cook them until golden, turning them and the onions occasionally. Once they are well colored, add the garlic, stir in the tomato paste, capers and then add the stock and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Scrape the pan to release the juices, then cover and simmer until the fennel is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Serve over a bed of cooked quinoa with a little crumbled goat cheese and chopped fennel greens and parsley for garnish.
Note: If there’s excess liquid at the end of cooking, pour it into a small skillet. When ready to serve, add 1 tablespoon butter to the juices, bring to a boil and simmer until rich and syrupy. Pour the thickened sauce over the warm fennel.