I had a stroke of luck the other day, when I found some baby fennel in the supermarket. These tiny bulbs with their tender stalks are delicious. They’re a little less strong in flavour than their grown-up cousin, and they’ve got a lovely texture, giving easily to the tooth with a good crunch even after cooking. If you can’t find baby fennel for this recipe, you can use a sliced bulb of the adult version.
I’ve teamed the aromatic fennel up with some salty halloumi here, and glazed the lot with a white wine and soft brown sugar reduction. This is a great (and surprisingly quick and easy) supper dish with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.
To serve two, you’ll need:
1 block (half a pound) halloumi
8 whole baby fennel bulbs
2 large shallots
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 small glass white wine
1 rounded tablespoon soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper
Basil flowers or chopped basil leaves to garnish
Dice the shallots finely and slice the garlic. Slice the halloumi into pieces about half a centimetre thick. Melt the butter and oil together in a large, non-stick frying pan, and fry the shallots with the fennel seeds for a minute or so until the shallots are becoming soft, then add the garlic, fennel bulbs and cayenne. Cook, turning the fennel, for another two minutes, then add the halloumi to the pan in a single layer with an extra drizzle of oil if you think it needs it. There won’t be much room in there, so put the fennel on top of the pieces of halloumi while the halloumi browns – this will take between five and ten minutes minutes, turning regularly (and carefully – a flexible silicone spatula is really useful here).
When the halloumi is golden on both sides, tip in the wine and sugar. Let it bubble up and simmer it hard until the liquid has almost all evaporated. You should be left with a dense syrup coating the fennel and halloumi. Taste to check the seasoning, then serve with a sprinkling of basil (the plant in my kitchen is flowering at the moment, as you’ll see from the photo) with plenty of bread to mop up the aromatic sauce.