Fennel recently reappeared at the markets and I swooped in for the kill. Before I was finished paying, I was already salivating over the thought of a fennel braise a la Deborah Madison. Hers is a magically simple concoction that cooks down over slow heat; similar to onions, the fennel develops a profound flavor that’s nothing at all like the raw form. Toss with lemon, garlic, and a flat pasta like fettucine, and the eating is a dream, a series of rich, savory, and slightly sour sensations.

I’ve tried growing fennel at the pea patch, with variable success. Now’s not a bad time to plant for a fall crop; the baby bulbs are wonderfully sweet and crisp, with just a hint of licorice. Here’s the pasta recipe:

Recipe: Pasta with Caramelized Fennel

1 large bulb fennel, bulb sliced thinly and fronds minced / 1 tbls butter / salt & pepper / juice and zest of ½ lemon / 1 small clove garlic, minced finely / fettucine / grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Heat a heavy pan over medium heat. Add butter and swirl. Add sliced fennel bulb and cook until brown spots develop, about 8 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir. Sprinkle with a scant ½ tsp salt, add 1 cup of water, then turn down heat and cover. Cook until the fennel is deeply browned, about 25 minutes more.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta and drain. Separately, mix up about 3 tbls of fennel fronds, the lemon zest, and garlic. When the fennel is done, check the pan for liquid and add a scoop of pasta water if dry. Grind in black pepper to taste, stir in the frond mixture, and mix with pasta to combine flavors. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese if desired. Feeds 2. Adapted from Deborah Madison.

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