I came across this recipe by Mark Bittman the other day and was intrigued. I love olives, capers, garlic, tomatoes, and thyme, separately or in combination, so it sounded like something I should try (and it was a good excuse to visit the olive bar at Wegman's). I was also curious about roasting the canned tomatoes, which I had never heard of doing before, although I have used the Muir Glen fire-roasted canned tomatoes in the past and was not particularly impressed.
The recipe suggests serving this with fish, but of course that wasn't going to happen. I pondered my protein options for a while and settled on giant lima beans, or butter beans if you prefer. I cooked them separately the night before.
I don't think I'd ever cooked fennel before. I wasn't even sure which parts we were supposed to eat, so I started off with this video:
I did put the stalks and fronds in a ziploc bag and stash them in the freezer for stock, as suggested. I diced the trimmed fennel bulbs in small pieces, like onions.
I decided to try roasting the tomatoes. I drained two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (I needed about one tomato's worth for a different recipe, so I didn't end up using 2 full cans, but this is a pretty forgiving recipe and I think it would have been fine with a little more or a little less). I lined a cookie sheet with foil and sprayed it with cooking spray, then spread the tomatoes across it in a single layer with my hands:
After about 20 minutes in the oven, I had this:
OK, maybe that isn't as dramatic as I'd hoped. You can see a little caramelization on there, though, and I really do think roasting them concentrated the flavor.
While the tomatoes were roasting, I worked on sauteeing the fennel. The recipe says not to let it brown at all, but I found that impossible. Here's what the dish looked like when I got all the ingredients in the pan:
That's fennel, tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, and thyme. I used big olives, with pits, and put them in whole as instructed. I can't tell you what kind they are -- I just picked what looked good at the olive bar.
To serve this, I heated up the butter beans I'd cooked the day before. I was worried about them drying out in the microwave, so I cooked them in the leftover juice from the canned tomatoes. Then I drained them and mixed them with the compote.
That's my Sunday lunch. We served the beans with baked potatoes and a second rendition of the massaged kale salad.
Verdict: delicious. I was afraid the fennel flavor would be really strong and overpower everything else, but it was subtle. I'm not sure how I feel about the few big olives. Next time I might use Nicoise olives, or cut the olives up. The leftovers tasted even better the next day, with a baked potato and some steamed green beans.
I would definitely make this again. If I couldn't find fennel, I think it would work with onions, too. In fact, that sounds great.