Text by Bonnie S. Benwick (c) 2018, The Washington Post
This is one of those dishes that is simple to make yet nice enough to warrant a company's-coming meal - and it's healthful to boot. If fennel is not something you cook with very often, this is a fine way to get more comfortable with this versatile vegetable.
The white fennel bulb may or may not have stalks and fronds attached to it at the market; typically, you'll trim those for making broth and/or a dill-look-alike garnish. Trim and slice the bulb: Raw, it offers a firm, wonderful crunch for salads. When you cut it into wedges and roast it, the fennel bulb becomes almost meltingly tender and mellow in flavor. The core can be tough, so it is routinely discarded before cooking.
About that flavor: Although advertised as anise-like, the bulb does not impart a heavy dose of licorice notes - the stalks are stronger in that regard. To cook the bulb in quick time, we're parboiling its wedges before they join the tomatoes, lemon, and salmon in the oven. With such juicy company, the fish stays moist.
If fennel's not your thing or not always available at your grocery store, you can substitute leeks. See the NOTE, below.
Chances are, this dish will look good just as you assembled it, so you just might want to serve it straight from the baking dish. We're okay with that.
Roasted Salmon With Fennel and Tomatoes
Two 6-ounce frozen salmon fillets (skin-on or skinless)
1 large or 2 medium fennel bulbs (may substitute leeks; see the headnote and NOTE)
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons ground za'atar
Leaves from 6 stems parsley
Unwrap and place the frozen salmon fillets on a plate lined with paper towels.
Bring a medium saute pan of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, trim any fronds and stems from the fennel bulb(s), reserving a few fronds for garnish, then cut the bulb in half. Discard the core (which looks like triangular wedges), then cut each bulb half into several wedges.
Add a generous pinch of salt to the water, then slip in the fennel. Reduce the heat to medium; cook for about 8 minutes, or until just tender, then drain well.
While the fennel is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Finely grate the zest of the lemon into a shallow baking dish, then cut the fruit in half and squeeze in its juice. Cut the tomatoes in half; add them to the mix. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, then season lightly with salt and toss to coat. Roast (middle rack) for 6 minutes.
While the vegetables are in the oven, pat the salmon dry, then rub it all over with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with the za'atar and a pinch of salt.
Add the drained fennel to the baking dish, then nestle the fillets among the vegetables; if the fillets are skin-on, place them skin sides up. Return to the oven and roast for about 10 minutes, or just until the center of each fillet can be flaked apart gently with a fork. While the salmon and vegetables are in the oven, coarsely chop the parsley leaves.
Scatter the parsley and reserved fennel fronds over the fish, fennel and tomatoes. Drizzle with a little more oil, and serve warm.
NOTE: If you want to use leeks instead of the fennel, cut the white and light-green parts of 4 or 5 of them crosswise into thin rings and place in a deep container of cold water. Let sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then gently lift them out of the water and shake dry. Place in the pan with the tomatoes, toss to coat and follow the rest of the directions above.
Adapted from a recipe at BBCGoodFood.com.
Feature Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg