Meatless Monday: Caramelized Fennel and Goat Cheese Tart from Plenty

February 13, 2012

Plenty by Yotom Ottolenghi is a cookbook devoted to supreme vegetarian cuisine.  Some of us have this perception that vegetarian food is bland and flavorless, consisting of salad leaves and tofu.  This book changes all of that.  Ottolenghi prepares exceptional cuisine that places vegetables at the center of the plate.  The book is divided by  vegetables so that the cook can prepare these dishes according to the seasons.  You will find recipes for root vegetables, onions, mushrooms, squash, peppers, eggplant, brassicas, tomatoes and more.  Some of the dishes like herb stuffed tomatoes, smoky frittata, and grilled zucchini salad are familiar and comforting while others such as the eggplant with buttermilk sauce, surprise tartin with potatoes, or purple sprouting broccoli with rice noodles excite the senses and awaken the adventurous eater within.  Whether you are a vegetarian or a devoted Meatless Mondayer- Plenty is a must-have on the bookshelf.


Caramelized fennel with goat cheese

Goat's curd, a light cheese made from goat’s milk, is known for its soft and creamy, yet not terribly unctuous, texture and for its wonderful freshness. It’s hard to get, though. You'll want to ask around at your local farmers' market or a good cheese shop.

Still, there is no need to get despondent if you can’t find it. There is an abundance of young and fresh goat cheeses that will do the trick equally well. My favorite is Caprini freschi, from Piedmont in Italy.

Serves 4

4 small fennel bulbs
3½ tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp fennel seeds
coarse sea salt and black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
¾ cup roughly chopped dill (leaves and stalks)
5 oz young and creamy goat cheese
grated zest of 1 lemon

Start by preparing the fennel bulbs. First take off the leafy fronds and keep them for the garnish. Then slice off some of the root part and remove any tough or brown outer layers, making sure the base still holds everything together. Cut each bulb lengthways into ½-inch-thick slices.

Melt half the butter with half the oil in a large frying pan placed over high heat. When the butter starts to foam add a layer of sliced fennel. Do not overcrowd the pan and don’t turn the fennel over or stir it around in the pan until one side has become light golden, which will take about 2 minutes. Then turn the slices over using tongs and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the pan. Continue with the rest of the fennel, using up the remaining butter and oil.

Once all the fennel has been seared, add the sugar, fennel seeds and plenty of salt and pepper to the pan. Fry for 30 seconds, then return all the fennel slices to the pan and caramelize them gently for 1 to 2 minutes (they need to remain firm inside so just allow them to be coated in the melting sugar and seeds). Remove the fennel from the pan and leave to cool down on a plate.

To serve, toss the fennel in a bowl with the garlic and dill. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Arrange on a serving plate and dot with spoonfuls of goat cheese. Finish with a drizzle of oil and a scattering of lemon zest. Garnish with the fennel fronds. Serve at room temperature.

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