Monday, January 28, 2013

Pesto Braised Zucchini & Fennel with Shallots

I've been looking for reasons to run my oven lately. It's been so damned cold here that the warmth and aroma of slowly cooking food appeals to something primal in me, I think. I wouldn't mind camping out in front of my oven the way our elderly cat is camped out in front of the heat vent in the living room. Now, you can certainly braise food on top of the stove, or even in a slow cooker, but neither of them give you the same cozy, warm home. And once everything is in the oven, there's not so much for the cook to do but have a glass of wine, or a nap.

Braising involves cooking food partially submerged in liquid at a simmer. A pot roast or meat stew is a braise, but some of my favorite braises involve vegetables. Braised vegetables become meltingly tender, and absorb all the flavors they've been bathing in. Wonderful cold weather food.

Last week's recipe for Butter Braised Asparagus is a quick braise without much prep needed on your part. This braise of Pesto Braised Zucchini & Fennel with Shallots takes a few more minutes, but the resulting dish is luscious, with great depth of flavor and it reheats beautifully. I always pray for leftovers. It's one of my favorite dishes to serve beside simply baked chicken or fish, which can, incidentally, be popped into the oven next to the zucchini at the right time.

Pesto Braised Zucchini & Fennel with Shallots

Ready for the oven, just needs to be covered and baked.
Note: This is vegetarian and gluten free as written, if you prefer a vegan version, use all olive oil instead of the butter and oil, and use the basil and oil puree carried in many supermarkets, instead of traditional basil pesto, as it usually contains cheese.


2T unsalted butter
1T extra virgin olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into sixths (reserve some fronds for garnish)
3 small to medium zucchini, cut in half through the middle, then halved lengthwise
8 large shallots, peeled and halved
2T basil pesto
1T lemon zest
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water or stock
salt and black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Lightly oil a shallow 2-3 quart oven-to-table baking dish.

2. Heat the butter and oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. as soon as the butter begins to brown very slightly, add the fennel, with a cut side down. Lower the heat to medium and cook until the fennel is browned on one side, then flip and brown the other cut side. Cook about 10 minutes total. Remove the fennel to the prepared baking pan.

To get the fennel browned you may have to turn it a few times.
3. Add the zucchini to the oil in the pan, and raise the heat if necessary to brown the cut side quickly. You want the zucchini to be mostly raw. Remove the zucchini to the baking pan, and then arrange the zucchini and fennel alternately, and tuck in the cut shallots in between. Salt and pepper liberally.

4. Add the pesto, the zest, the wine and the water to the frying pan, swirling to blend. Bring to a simmer for a minute, and pour it evenly over the vegetables in the baking dish. Cover with a lid or foil, and bak for about 1 hour, or until the fennel is tender. Test it with a fork or the tip of a paring knife. garnish with the reserved fennel fronds if you wish.
Pesto Braised Zucchini & Fennel with Shallots in
my favorite baking dish from Kitchen Kapers

Serves 6.

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