This is good as a vegetable with grilled or fresh fish like red mullet or sea bream, or with roast lamb, but, as with most things that taste good, could have a life of its own, cold, and as a salad. It has a lovely colour which could be dramatized by adding some black olives. The addition of some quartered hard-boiled eggs would give it substance.
Cut off the fennel fronds and reserve. Remove any coarse and/or discoloured outside leaves, cutting off the green shots at the top and removing the protruding base, but don’t cut off so much that good leaves go with it. Cut each bulb in half across the short axis then in half again, at right angles, then cut each quarter into four neat wedges. Place in a gratin dish or smallish roasting tin.
Heat the wine and orange juice and rind gently with the saffron and let them infuse for 10 minutes. Pour over the fennel, turning so all is covered. Leave to marinate for an hour or so.
Take a large saucepan or frying pan and transfer the fennel and liquid into it, add the salt and sugar, and cook, covered, at a gentle simmer for 12–15 minutes. Transfer to a warm serving dish and give it a few turns of the pepper mill. Chop the fronds and sprinkle over the dish.
© 2001 Stephen Bull. All rights reserved.