This became a favorite stew this year. I made it several times over the fall and winter, brought it to potlucks, and served it for extended family over the holidays. I’m finally posting it to share. It’s a richly flavored stew that perfumes the kitchen with fennel and red wine. In contrast to the eggplant stew I posted last fall, in which you briefly saute all of the ingredients together on the stove, and then roast the whole stew in the oven for 2 hours, this stew has the opposite procedure. You cook the vegetables separately and uniquely, then bring them together in a boozy red wine and herb stew.
The procedure for roasting the fennel was new to me. You braise quarters of fennel on the stove with olive oil and broth for 5 minutes, then put the pan in the oven to roast for an hour, covered in parchment paper. This does something magical to the fennel, and is more interesting than simply roasting slices of fennel in olive oil and salt (which was my previous method for roasting fennel). Now I want to use this braising/roasting method on fennel at other times as a side dish, or a base for other stews as well. And wouldn’t it be nice on a salad?
This recipe is inspired by Denis Cotter’s fantastic cookbook Cafe Paradiso Seasons. I think that Julie/Julia gal is pretty OCD, but if I would ever decide to cook my way through a cookbook, it might just be this one. My two changes are that I’ve cut the eggplants into slightly smaller pieces, and have also salted and rested the cut eggplant cubes before cooking them. This step draws out liquid from the spongy eggplant cubes, and removes possible bitterness. Since you have the fennel roasting for an hour, I think you might as well have the eggplant draining during this time.
You can serve this stew with any kind of starchy side. Today I’m pairing it with thick slices of pan-seared polenta, but it’s also good with rice, couscous, or crusty bread. Alternatively, it’s a great stew for composing a vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie (to do so, arrange the stew in the bottom of a casserole pan, top it with mashed potatoes, and then bake until the mashed potatoes are golden). Since a shepherd’s pie is topped with mashed potatoes, I replace the potatoes in the stew with green beans.
A fruity red wine is preferred. The author Denis Cotter says the first time he made this stew, he drank the rest of the bottle while the stew simmered, “but that’s not always necessary.”
I used chilies and thyme from the garden. If you’re afraid of the heat, leave the chilies out.
EGGPLANT AND FENNEL STEW BRAISED IN RED WINE
3 fat fennel bulbs
1/3 cup olive oil
18 ounces vegetable stock (separated as 1 cup and 1 1/4 cup)
2 large eggplants
18 ounces potatoes
28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
6 cloves galic
2-4 fresh chilies
2-3 sprigs thyme
10 ounces (1 1/4 cup) red wine
salt, to season
Trim the greens off the top of the fennel bulbs and slice a thin sliver off the root end. Then slice the bulbs into quarters. Place them in a cast iron pan or skillet with tall sides (something that you an use both on the stove and in the oven), together with 1/3 cup olive oil and 1 cup vegetable broth. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Cover the pot loosely with parchment paper and bake in the oven at 350F for 1 hour. Check occasionally to see if there is enough liquid, and you may need to turn some of the fennel pieces.
Here are the before-and-after photos.
In the meantime, peel the eggplant, and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Toss the cubes in salt, and place in a colander to drain. After about 30 minutes of draining, pat with paper towels to dry.
During this time, prepare the ingredients for the rest of the stew. Slice the garlic cloves and the chilies. Heat them in a large soup pot for 30 seconds or so, and then add the tomatoes. I crush the whole tomatoes with my hands, or use a cheese grater with large holes to roughly grate the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes with the garlic and chilies for about 5 minutes. Then add the thyme sprigs, the wine, and the remaining 1 -1/4 cup of vegetable broth. Season with a little salt, bring to a boil, and then simmer around 20 minutes.
Peel the potatoes. Quarter them, then cut the quarters into big wedges around 1 -1/2 inches thick. Steam the potato cubes in a vegetable steamer until soft, around 15-20 minutes.
When the fennel comes out of the oven, it’s time to bake the eggplant. Place the eggplant in a baking dish (I prefer cast iron), and toss with olive oil. Bake at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, or until soft. I usually have the eggplant baking at the same time as I have the potatoes steaming.
Add the roasted fennel and all of its oil juices to the stew. Add the steamed potatoes and the roasted eggplant. Bring the stew back to a boil, and simmer again on very low heat, covered, for 15 minutes. If you have the time, turn off the heat, and let the stew sit for an hour or so to mellow. Check the seasoning before serving.