Monday 27 August 2012

Wine-Braised Baby Fennel in Crisped Prosciutto

My trusty camera was stolen two weeks ago when thieves broke into our house and helped themselves to our valuables, so I've had to use my Samsung cellphone (which has an astonishingly good camera) to take this photograph. Apologies if it's not an image of the highest order - but it's not bad for a cell phone, is it?

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

Trim the fennel bulbs, top and bottom, and peel off any tough outer leaves. Put them in a single layer in a large pan and add the olive oil, wine, water, garlic cloves and rosemary. Press a circle of greaseproof baking paper onto the surface of the bulbs and place a tilted lid on top of the pan.  Cook, over a medium heat, at an energetic bubble, for 10-15 minutes, or until the fennel feels very tender when you poke it with the tip of a sharp knife. Take off the baking paper and lid, turn the heat up and cook the bulbs until the liquid in the pan has reduced to about two tablespoons.

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.

Serves 4. 

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Anonymous said...

I have never had Fennel before, I will try this recipe this week!

Jade Wright said...

This foodie blog is incredible! Found myself dashing to the kitchen to get nibbles it made me so hungry!!

Read my salad creation here, perfect for a hot summers day:

Jane-Anne said...

Thanks Chillie! Let me know how it turns out.

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Jade! Thank you very much. I will go and have a look at your salad :-)