I Hate Fennel {baked shrimp with feta}

I like being surprised when I cook. Well, surprised in a good way. I like to discover a new trick or a shortcut or a new flavor that I didn’t realize I was into. I like when a new recipe actually turns out good or an accident yields a something positive. That’s sort of what happened with this recipe. I thought that 95% of it sounded great and 5% of it really wasn’t in my wheelhouse. The 5% is fennel and Pernod.

This recipe is adapted from an Ina Garten recipe. I saw it on TV a few weeks back and sent it to the hubs who immediately questioned my willingness to pursue a dish with fennel in it. “Why not give it a try?” I thought to myself. I figured I could cut back on the fennel without totally eliminating it and nix the Pernod all together. I don’t like licorice/anise flavors enough to merit buying an entire bottle of alcohol that not only can I not drink due to my delicate state but also that I wouldn’t want to if I could.

Digression: I actually wish I liked Pernod. When I lived in France, a friend of mine would order “tomates” which I thought looked so French and so refreshing. It’s a pretty drink of pastis, grenadine and water that becomes beautiful tomato color (hence the name) and cloudy when mixed together. I wasn’t that sophisticated; I never drank cocktails in France, mostly because I’m a gin drinker and getting a decent gin and tonic in Europe is impossible. Lemon garnish, no ice and flat “tonic” does not a gin et tonique make, mes amis.

Back to the recipe. Fennel. I can not abide licorice. I’ve never liked that flavor. The closest I ever got to tolerating it was during a time in my life when I worked at a bar and there was a lot of communal, surreptitious sharing of Jagermeister. Fennel is certainly not something that I have ever chosen to cook with at home but I felt that with this recipe, I could imagine how perhaps it might work and decided to dip my toes in. To my delight, once you get past the initial raw fennel smell and actually begin to cook it, it mellows out a lot and even becomes a bit sweet. I’m not saying I’m going to use weekly or anything but I’m much more apt to give a recipe I might have cast aside before a second look. You know, books, covers and judgment and all that.

So here’s what I decided on. Feel free to use Ina’s recipe if you have fine spirits living in your booze cabinet and a fennel-fetish. Otherwise, give my adaptation a try. Oh, and note, I halved her recipe and mine served 2. Please be sure to add a salad and a baguette. I forgot the baguette (I’ve never done that before in my life) and I was semi-distraught. Sopping opportunity missed.

Here’s the goods:

  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup diced fennel (the bulb only, not the fuzzy green bits)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • About 2/3 of a 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes (with liquid)
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

DSC_0303First, preheat your oven to 400°F. Start by prepping your shrimp and setting yourself up for success by mincing the garlic, dicing the fennel and measuring out your herbs and spices. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook for 8-10 minutes until it gets a bit of color and softens up. Add the garlic and cook for a minute before adding your white wine. Let that reduce by about half, scraping for goodies all the while, and then add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste.

DSC_0307Let that cook for about 10 to 15 minutes so all the flavors can come together. While that’s going down, crank out some fresh breadcrumbs. Grab yesterday’s baguette if you didn’t eat it all (I didn’t) and give it a whir in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, you can chop up the baguette very small. Barring wanting to make fresh breadcrumbs at all, I suppose you could use panko. Mix the breadcrumbs, lemon zest and parsley together and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Once your sauce has come together, place the shrimp on top of the mixture and then top that with the crumbled feta cheese and breadcrumbs.

DSC_0318Pop the whole shebang into the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes until the shrimp are cooked through without being rubbery and the top is golden brown.

DSC_0325Before you serve, squeeze a lemon over the top.

DSC_0340Please don’t forget to grab (another) (fresh) baguette to serve with this. There is good sopping to be had. A salad on the side won’t hurt either.

I ate fennel and I liked it.