Oven-baked fennel (vegetarian)
I have to admit, I made this dish as a side dish for lamb chops, but you could definitely serve this as a main dish or serve a risotto with it. If you're choosing to prepare it with lamb chops, season the lamb with freshly ground salt and pepper and sauté about 4 minutes on each side (for chops about 1,5" thick). Wait to do this until 8 minutes before the fennel is done.
for 2 people (as a side dish):
3 medium sized fennels
10 pecan nut halves (for filling)
6 pecan nut halves (for decoration)
30 g (1 oz) ground parmesan cheese
100 g (3.5 oz) mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons butter
freshly ground salt and pepper
Cut the fennel pieces so you only have the "bulb", or the root. Also remove all the thin, dark-green pieces from the stem and finely chop them. Slice the roots in half lengthwise. Using a sharp knife, carefully carve a hole into each root without damaging the bottom. Keep the carved out fennel pieces and put them aside.
From the outside, cut off a small piece at the bottom of each root so they can sit on a dish without tilting over. Steam those six pieces in a steamer (or a large pot with just a bit of water). The fennel should soften but not fall apart! Stick a knife in it to see how soft it got. Once softened, remove from the steamer and let it cool out.
Pre-heat the oven to 425 F (about 220 C). Since I'm living in this small apartment right now, I don't have a real oven. But I've been using a Black & Decker Toaster oven for years (Amazon sells a similar one, click here) and it works like a charm! Highly recommended, especially if you usually don't cook for more than 2 people.
Chop the carved out fennel pieces very fine. This works great with a food chopper.
In a dry skillet (don't add any oil or fat), roast all the pecan halves until they're just starting to brown a bit. Put aside 6 of the pecans for decaration later, roughly chop the other 10 halves and put aside.
Put the butter into the skillet, heat it over medium-high heat, add the finely chopped fennel pieces and sauté until softened (about 5-10 minutes). At the end, also add the finely chopped dark-green fennel twigs and stir.
In a bowl, combine this fennel mixture, parmesan, mascarpone and chopped pecan nuts. Season strongly with freshly ground salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Put the six fennel halves on a lightly buttered oven dish and fill the carved out holes with the fennel mixture. Distribute all the mixture equally onto the six fennel halves. Put the dish into the preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and decorate with the pecan halves.