We've been getting big fennel bulbs in our veggie boxes pretty regularly this winter, which has challenged us to shift away from our regular stable of meals a bit. We've made a fennel and walnut pie and a fennel-quinoa salad and this week we dived into another new dish: Ottolenghi's fennel and parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce. Even in work-from-home times, this is a weekend dish - there are quite a few different processes and the whole thing is the kind of fiddly that nobody's got the energy for on a work day.
Luckily, the result is something really, really good. The cooked down fennel is rich and almost sweet, with the parmesan cutting through with some sharpness. The sauce is a pretty simple tomato sauce, but it works perfectly with these dumplings. If you can bring yourself to deal with the faffing involved, you'll be richly rewarded.
Sicilian fennel & parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce
(slightly adapted from an Ottolenghi recipe via his Guardian column)
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and diced finely
1/3 cup currants
1/4 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
breadcrumbs from 2 slices of bread (we used 2 crushed Weetbix and it worked fine)
50g parmesan, finely grated
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs, beaten
30g dill, finely chopped
20g basil, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced finely
~250g tomatoes (the original recipe specifies cherry tomatoes, but we just used regular sized ones chopped up a bit)
180ml passata (we used jar sauce, the lazy option)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
10g basil leaves, finely chopped
Cook the fennel in a big pot of boiling water for fifteen minutes. Add the currants and cook for five more minutes and then drain everything into a colander or sieve. Transfer the mix to something like muslin (we use a clean Chux wipe) and squeeze out as much liquid as you can - you'll squeeze out heaps. The less moisture left in the mix, the better your chances of your dumplings staying together later on. Refrigerate your mixture until it's cold.
Stir the rest of the dumpling ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate that mixture as well.
Now you can make your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic, onion and a good sprinkle of salt. Cook for five minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion has started to go golden. Add the tomatoes and cook for another three minutes, until they've softened. Pour in the passata and stir through the caster sugar and basil, plus 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat down, gently cooking it all for 20 minutes.
Leave the sauce to cool for a bit and then stick-blend it all until it's smooth. Now it's dumpling time.
Combine the two sets of dumpling ingredients into one big bowl and mix everything together thoroughly. Use your hands to form it into eight equally sized dumplings - they'll be pretty big. Compress them as best you can - a couple of ours fell apart during the frying phase and the tighter you can pack them the more resilient they'll be.
Heat your veggie oil in a frying pan and, when it's hot, gently place the dumplings in the pan. Fry for about 8 minutes, turning regularly to get it all nice and golden - you'll have to be super gentle, because they'll want to fall apart. Once they're cooked, gently combine them with your tomato sauce - try to get them all coated in it (again, be careful not to disintegrate them). Heat everything up to a light simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes and then serve! We ate our with pearl couscous, but any kind of carb-y accompaniment would do I think (they'd actually make for an amazing meatball sub filling!).