Contributed by Susie Middleton, Fast, Fresh & Green
3⁄4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp vodka
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp tomato paste
1 large fennel bulb
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the broth and vodka in a liquid measure and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and tomato paste and set aside.
Cut the stalks off the fennel. Chop enough of the fennel fronds to yield 1 tsp; set aside. Trim any brown spots from the outside of the bulb and cut the bulb in half. Notch most of the core out from both halves, leaving a bit of it to hold the wedges together. (You should have about 1 lb of fennel remaining.) Cut each fennel half into 6 thick wedges.
In a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan with a lid, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Arrange the fennel wedges, one cut side down, in one layer in the pan. Season with the salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until the fennel wedges are nicely browned, 7 to 8 minutes. (If the heat on your burner is uneven, raise the pan so that all the wedges brown evenly). Turn the wedges over to another cut side with tongs. Pour the broth and vodka mixture over the fennel. Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly askew so that some steam escapes. Make sure the liquid is gently simmering (turn the heat down or up if necessary), and cook until the liquid is reduced to just a few tablespoons, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the lid, add the tomato-cream mixture, and cook, gently turning the fennel wedges with tongs, and stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the cream thickens and coats the fennel, about 2 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Serve the fennel and sauce right away, garnished with the chopped fennel fronds.
Lighter, Lemony Braised Fennel
Follow the recipe for the Silky Braised Fennel in Pink Sauce, but eliminate the vodka, the tomato paste, and the heavy cream. Reduce the amount of salt to 3/4 tsp. When chopping some of the fennel fronds, double the quantity – about 2 teaspoons total. When the fennel has finished braising and the broth is reduced, remove the pan from the heat and add 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and the chopped fennel fronds and stir well. Transfer to a serving dish.