fennel indecency

Like the fried fiori di zuc­ca, there are some dish­es whose ratio of low effort to extra­or­di­nary result seems like a vio­la­tion of some nat­ur­al— or at least moral— law.  This is one such.  The recipe comes orig­i­nal­ly from Frank, the Tus­can restau­rant on 2nd Avenue between 5th and 6th Street in New York, which was for a while in the late 90s an undis­cov­ered beau­ty but has suf­fered being writ­ten up, famous and mobbed for many years now.  Frank is still very much worth the vis­it, espe­cial­ly at 11:46pm on a Tues­day.  Frank, the man, was kind enough to share this improb­a­ble fen­nel stunt with us back in the day.  The fla­vor was so com­plex that we were hard-pressed to believe that it was a three ingre­di­ent dish.  Frank, you shit­ting me?  (Accom­pa­nied by appro­pri­ate large-ampli­tude hand ges­tures.)  Of course, when two of the ingre­di­ents are the most per­fect hard cheese ever invent­ed and an aro­mat­ic bulb full of com­plex poly­cyclic what­sits, one under­stands that the “sim­plic­i­ty” is only super­fi­cial.

Take one or more bulbs of fresh fen­nel and wrap them tight­ly in tin­foil with no leaks.  Roast them in the oven at 375 degrees for.. a good while.  Open them care­ful­ly over a bowl, as you want to save any liquor that may escape.  The bulb should be soft and juicy all the way through.

Cut each bulb in half length­wise and put into a ramekin.  Don’t leave too much sur­round­ing space.  Pour all the juice in there.  Now, coat with heavy cream and a gen­er­ous quan­ti­ty of grat­ed Parmi­giano-Reg­giano.  Don’t be faint­heart­ed about this— the fen­nel should be near­ly sub­merged.  (That’s why you cut them in half and used indi­vid­u­al­ly-sized ramekins.)  Put these ramekins back into the oven at Fahren­heit 451 or so— the tem­per­a­ture at which good sense burns.  When the guys are good and cooked, you can grate a bit more Parmi­giano on top and run them under the broil­er very briefly to char the upper sur­face.


This needs to be accom­pa­nied by a nice crusty baguette, because the bits of fon­du­ta or what­ev­er the hell it is sur­round­ing the intense­ly fla­vored fen­nel bulbs will be con­sumed by you and your friends one way or anoth­er, with a dis­creet­ly swirled fin­ger if all else fails.

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