The Food52 contest theme for the week of 3/18 was “Your Best Fennel.” Now, I peeled, sliced, diced, chopped, cooked and puréed fennel every which way while I was in culinary school. But at home? Not so much on the fennel cookery. So, I guess it was time to change that.
Fennel is great raw in salads (in fact, the ONE time in memory I’ve used this vegetable at home, I believe I made a raw fennel-dried apricot-poppy seed coleslaw to go with Thanksgiving dinner). When it’s raw, it has a crunchy texture and a mild to medium anise (licorice) flavor. I wanted to try deeply caramelizing it and combining it with some classic flavor pairings to create a savory fennel and apple tart.
For the pie crust, you’ll need to “blind bake” the shell a little bit. All that means is that you just have to put the crust in your tart pan and bake it for a few minutes before you add the filling. It’s a good idea to weigh the crust down during this step so that it doesn’t puff up and get mis-shapen. For this, you can use either fancy pie weights, or be cheap about it like me and buy an 80 cent bag of dry beans. I’ve been re-using these babies for 5 years and they work perfectly!
While this recipe takes a little bit of time to prepare, it would be an elegant item to pair with a salad for a special occasion like an Easter or Mother’s Day brunch or dinner. It’s almost like a quiche, but the tart is loaded with so many other things that the eggs play only a supporting roll.
I really loved the end result of the caramelized fennel – totally worth the effort. The anise flavor had become even more subdued, so there was just a hint of it. The apples added some sweetness, and the goat cheese added creaminess and tanginess. I also sprinkled some chopped walnuts on for crunch.
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 ounces chèvre (goat cheese)
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
Fennel fronds and chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
Heat oil over medium heat in large saucepot. Add fennel and sugar; cook 30 to 35 minutes or until deep golden brown, stirring frequently. Add thyme and salt; cook 5 minutes or until very deeply browned. (This step can be done up to 3 days in advance. Store the fennel in the refrigerate until you are ready to use it).
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Press crust into tart pan; cut off excess dough hanging over edge. Use a fork to poke some holes in the bottom of the crust. Line crust with parchment paper and fill tart with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 15 minutes or until light golden brown; remove pie weights and parchment paper. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
In medium bowl, whisk eggs and cream. Spread fennel in bottom of crust. Arrange apple slices on top of fennel. Pour egg mixture over fennel and apples. Sprinkle with chèvre and walnuts.
Bake tart for 30 minutes or until eggs are set. Let stand at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with fennel fronds and parsley.