It took me a while to truly appreciate fennel - aniseed hasn't been a favourite flavour but I think as you evolve so to does your taste. What really swung me into the fennel camp was slow cooking it, allowing the sugars to release and caramelise, softening its harsh notes.
I've used this slow cooked fennel as the filling in a tart - adding a little parmesan and cheddar for bite and wisps of fennel fronds as a flavour accent.
Makes 1x20cm tart
2 fennel bulbs, halved and sliced evenly
finely grated parmesan and cheddar, to taste
⅓ cup cream
⅓ cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste
fennel fronds, taken from the fennel bulbs
Make the filling:
Add a knob of butter and a drizzle of olive oil into a skillet and place over a medium low heat. When the butter has melted, add in the sliced fennel along with a sprinkling of sea salt. Stir briefly and lower the heat so that the fennel slowly softens. This should take about 10 minutes and you should end up with a mix of softened and caramelised slices of fennel. Place this in a bowl and cool slightly before tossing through a mix of finely grated parmesan and cheddar - I'd recommend no more than a third of a cup but it really is up to your own preference. If you'd like a different taste profile, forgo this step and dot cubes of gorgonzola through the mix when you are filling the tart.
Make the tart case:
Line a tart tin with shortcrust - prick the base with a fork and then cover with baking paper (for best results let the pastry rest for 30 minutes before cooking). Fill with weights and bake in a preheated 170°C oven for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and continue baking until the base is dry and the case lightly golden.
Assemble the tart:
Loosely place the filling into the tart, don't be tempted to pack it down as you want the egg mixture to seep evenly through the mix. Sprinkle the surface with fennel fronds. Whisk the eggs with cream and milk and pour evenly over the tart.
Bake in a preheated 170°C oven until cooked through and golden, about 25 minutes - the mix will rise and puff in the oven but will deflate as it cools.
Let it sit in the tin for about 10 minutes before removing.
Serve at once with a simple green salad.