Fennel with Orange and Sambuca

An Italian Contorni dish. A classic combination gone wild, playing spicy, sweet, sour and savoury notes all at once.

4 small or 2-3 large fennel bulbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 rounded teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with the flat of a knife
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1/4 teaspoon salt
coarse ground black pepper to taste
3/8 cup Sambuca, plus 2 tablespoons for finishing
3/8 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
1 1/4 cups orange juice
1 cup chicken broth or water
zest of one orange
3 tablespoons of panko breadcrumbs

YIELD: Serves 8

COURSE: Vegetables and Sides

CUISINE: Italian


  1. Cut the tops off the fennel where the green stalks meet the white bulb. Trim the bottom end of the bulbs and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the outer layers and anything that is browned. Trim away any excess stem. Cut each half into eighths.

    In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion slices and sweat them, stirring, until they start to soften - but do not let them brown.

    Add the fennel, garlic, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with the Sambuca and cook until the liquid in the pan is almost evaporated, around 2 minutes.
  2. Add the raisins and their soaking water, orange juice, and chicken broth. Cook, periodically turning the fennel and glazing it with liquid from the pan, until the liquid is reduced by 1/2 to 3/ The liquid will thicken and the fennel will be well glazed and softened.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, pick out the crushed garlic clove and mix in the remaining 2 tablespoons of Sambuca. Transfer the fennel to a serving platter and sprinkle the breadcrumbs and orange zest over the top.