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Much loved in Italy and Provence, fennel is just beginning to come into its own in the rest of the world. The slightly sweet, anise-scented bulbs are quite versatile—they are good raw with a little olive oil and lemon juice, or baked, grilled, pureed, or stewed. Fennel and fennel seeds have a long history in folk medicine. Modern science finds fennel a good source of vitamin A; it also provides some calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
   To prepare fennel for cooking, cut off the stalks. Separate the delicate greens from the stalks and reserve them for garnish, or chop them and add them to the dish at the very end of cooking (so their color is retained). Reserve the stalks for stock. With a paring knife, cut any discoloration or bruises from the outer layer. If the fennel is being braised or grilled, cut the bulb into halves horizontally. For other dishes, quarter the bulb and remove the core. Fennel is structured like an onion, with layers that may be separated from one another. To get the most consistent cut, separate the layers and cut each one separately.
   Browning the fennel and onions before baking them significantly reduces the cooking time. The olives are salty, so use salt sparingly.
Makes 4 servings.


• 1 tablespoon oil
• 2 fennel bulbs, cut into halves horizontally
• 2 small red onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1/3 cup dry white wine
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 8 cloves garlic, peeled
• 1 large sprig thyme
• 1/4 cup oil-cured or kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
• 1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400°. Lightly oil or spray a 9x13-inch glass baking dish. In a wide skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it is almost smoking. Carefully add the fennel and onions, cut side down. Do not separate the onions into rings. Allow the onions and fennel to brown in the skillet, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and brown the other side.

Carefully transfer the onions and fennel to the baking dish. Season with a little salt and lots of black pepper, if desired. Add the wine, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, and olives to the baking dish. Cover the dish with waxed paper, then tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes, until the fennel is soft but not mushy. Add the tomatoes to the baking dish and place it under the broiler until the edges of the fennel and onion are just crisped. Add the basil and toss to mix.


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