Caramelised Fennel with Tomato and Saffron Orzo

by burntttoast

This is a wonderful recipe for when you a.) are feeling like pasta but want to make it fancy, b.) are feeling a nostalgic twinge for some umami-packed paella, and / or c.) got a little too enthusiastic at the supermarket and bought too much fennel but cannot muster the enthusiasm to make fennel salad. Again.

Caramelised Fennel with Tomato and Saffron Orzo

Inspired by the wonderful OTK recipe that can be found here.

Serves 4 (with some salad on the side)

For this, you will need a big frying pan and a baking tin. You can absolutely forgo the baking tin and do everything in the frying pan, but you won’t quite get the same caramelized and concentrated effect the oven and the baking tin will give you. You can also replace the fennel with any other veggie – halved caramelized onions or a few wedges of roasted pumpkin would be delish.

The fennel

2 large bulbs of fennel, washed and trimmed, each cut into 6-8 wedges (depending on size) with the core still intact

2 Tbsp olive oil + 1 Tbsp butter, cubed

½ tsp salt

ground pepper

100ml water

1 ½ tsp raw sugar

The orzo

200g orzo (rice-shaped pasta)

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, chopped

2 Tbsp tomato paste

500ml stock (I like beef, but vegetable is wonderful, too)

100ml white wine (can be replaced with water, if preferred)

1 tsp salt

ground pepper

The saffron water

1 envelope ground saffron

2 Tbsp hot water

2 Tbsp parsley, chopped

grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Preheat your oven to 240°C fan. Combine the fennel and the oil in your baking tin, giving it a good toss. Spread the fennel out evenly and dot over the butter (you can of course, leave this step out, but to me, fennel and butter are SoULmAtEs, so move forward at your own peril) and sprinkle over the salt and some pepper. Gently pour around the 100ml of water and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Briefly remove the baking tin from the oven, give your fennel slices another toss, and sprinkle over the sugar. Roast for another 15 minutes – if it needs a little longer, give it a little longer. Undercooking the fennel is the worst thing you can do here, you hear me? Once the fennel is soft and nicely caramelised, remove it from the oven and set aside.

In the meantime, toast the orzo in your large frying pan over medium-high heat for about 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has darkened a little in colour. The “grains” won’t all be the same level of toastedness, but that is absolutely fine. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Once the fennel is ready and waiting for you on the sidelines, you can pop your frying pan back on the stove and add the olive oil and garlic. Fry for a few minutes or until starting to go golden around the edges. Add the tomato paste and smoosh It into the garlic, stirring constantly for another minute to get some caramelisation going on that, too. Add the stock, white wine, salt and pepper, and give everything a good stir. Sprinkle in your toasted orzo and arrange the fennel slices over the top. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the orzo is done.

In the meantime, combine the saffron and the hot water in a small bowl. When the orzo is ready to serve, drizzle over the saffron water and sprinkle over the parsley. Serve with parmesan on the side.