I'm excited about this - it's a splendid dish, ideal for serving on its own as a warm starter, or as an accompaniment to grilled fish or roast chicken, or even as finger food for a party.
Baby fennel bulbs are in high season in South Africa right now, and I eagerly add them to my basket whenever I see them. Not a great shopping strategy, to be honest, because my family have always been doubtful about fennel: "It tastes like liquorice, Mom", they complain. "Eeeu."
I'm happy to report that they changed their minds when I put this dish on the table yesterday. The bacon addicts that they are, they loved the crisp wrapping of prosciutto, the silken/stringy, delicate taste and texture of the little fennel bulbs, and a dressing as intense as the finest soy sauce.
Rosemary, with its strong resinous taste, may seem like a strange choice of herb to go with fennel, but it works beautifully as a subtle background note.
This is not worth making unless you can find really small and tender fennel bulbs, and some proper Italian prosciutto. Although, having said that, I wouldn't mind wrapping these up in some streaky bacon rashers and throwing them on the braai.
I suppose you could sprinkle micro-herbs all over the top of these to make them look cheffy. Or not.
Wine-Braised Baby Fennel in Crisped Prosciutto
12 small fennel bulbs
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
¾ cup (180 ml) dry white wine
4 Tbsp (60 ml) water
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
a small sprig of fresh rosemary
6 wide slices of good Italian proscuitto, or 12 if they are narrow slices
extra olive oil, for frying
a squeeze of lemon juice
milled black pepper
Remove the fennel bulbs from the pan using a slotted spoon, and place on a plate. Set the pan containing the liquid aside. Cut the prosciutto slices in half and use these pieces to wrap each each fennel bulb in a 'miniskirt', as shown above. Heat a little olive oil in a new pan or on a griddle, and when it is very hot, fry the wrapped bulbs for about 2 minutes on each side, or until the ham is crisp and golden, and the fennel bulbs are beginning to 'catch'. Arrange the the bulbs on a warm platter.
Put the frying pan containing the cooking liquid back onto the heat, warm it through for a minute or two and then add a generous squeeze of lemon juice, plus a good grinding of black pepper. You shouldn't need to add salt, as the ham is salty enough on its own. Turn off the heat and drizzle the dressing over the fennel bulbs. Serve immediately, piping hot or just warm.