This sauce/side dish — a simple combination of fennel, tomatoes and olives — is magical. Not because it’s the best thing you ever ate, but because it’s transportive: you eat it and you’re in the Mediterranean. This is even true with winter tomatoes (though of course it’s better with those of summer, and see my suggestion below), because the dominant flavors are fennel and olives.
The fennel is cooked until almost jammy. It will never become as tender as onion, but it gets close. The heat barely diminishes its distinctive anise flavor and gives the final compote a lovely texture. Garlic, thyme and capers are all supporting cast members.
The olives are really the stars. If you use good olive oil, so much the better, but the oil that comes out of plump, juicy and unpitted olives is really sensational, and yes, I honestly believe that the pits contribute a flavor that isn’t there otherwise.
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