We once bought such an enormous plant at Columbia Road flower market in London that we had to stick its top out of the car sunroof and people were laughing and taking pictures on their mobiles as we drove by. I was reminded of this when my friend Lindsey from The Eating Tree gave me two fat fennel bulbs recently. I wish I’d taken a picture before I trimmed them, because they had such magnificently verdant fronds, they looked as though they were sprouting their own forest.
As our own fennel is looking decidedly weedy (in every sense) I was extremely grateful. I had all sorts of plans for them, but as usual things were a bit hectic, so I plumped for this quick fennel tart. The braising can be done ahead of time if necessary and the mixture refrigerated. Let it come to room temperature before assembling the tart.
The fennel and onion mixture is quite versatile … use it for a quiche filling instead, mix it into a macaroni cheese before baking, or stir through some fennel seeds before adding the wine and stock and when it’s done, pile grilled lamb chops or fish on top.
I, ahem, went a bit overboard on the cheese because I was using up odds and ends before they grew legs and made a break for freedom. I respectfully submit that you should stick roughly to the quantities given in the recipe.
Fennel, Cheese and Onion Tart
2 bulbs of fennel
1 large white onion
1 tbsp butter
Splash of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small glass of white wine
150 ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry (or roll a block to approx 35cmx24cm)
About 100g Taleggio or other soft melting cheese
About 50g blue cheese such as Stilton
Cut the root and fingers off the fennel, reserving the fronds for garnish. Discard any tough outer leaves, quarter the bulbs and remove the core. Cut the quarters in half again. Peel the onion and cut into wedges the same size as the fennel.
Melt the butter with the oil in a deep lidded frying pan and add the fennel and onion wedges. Season with salt and black pepper and cook for a few minutes, tossing gently. Pour in the white wine and let it bubble up for a couple of minutes, then add the stock. Put on a lid and simmer gently until just tender. Mine took 10 minutes.
Remove the lid, increase the heat and bubble off any remaining liquid. Check the seasoning and add more if necessary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tinged golden brown, another 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7.
Take a baking tray a little larger than the pastry and line it with grease-proof or silicon paper. Lie the pastry on the paper and score a line all the way round, 2cm in from the the edges, without cutting right through. Prick the middle with a fork.
Spread the fennel and onion mixture inside the central rectangle. Break the Taleggio and Stilton into chunks and scatter over the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before scattering over the roughly chopped fennel fronds and cutting into wedges.