No, the 15 garlic cloves isn't a typo - once scorched, they add a mellowing sweetness to an otherwise piercingly sharp dressing. The ricotta isn't essential, if you'd rather keep this dairy-free, but it also helps balance the acidity.
4 medium fennel bulbs
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and black pepper
15 large whole garlic cloves, skin on
4 tbsp verjuice (or 4 tbsp lemon juice mixed with 2 tbsp red-wine vinegar)
1 medium tomato, cut into 1cm dice
250ml fresh vegetable stock
20g capers, drained
25g black wrinkly olives, pitted and chopped in half
1 tbsp chopped thyme leaves
2½ tsp caster sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
- First prepare the fennel. Trim off and discard the tops (reserve any leafy fronds for garnish) and cut each bulb in half from top to bottom; you are aiming for thick slices about 2.5cm wide.
- In a large frying pan for which you have a lid, heat two and a half tablespoons of oil on a medium to high heat. Add half the fennel with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Cook for five or six minutes, turning once, so it's nicely brown on both sides, remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining fennel.
- Keep the empty pan on the heat, pour in the remaining oil, add the garlic and fry for three minutes, tossing occasionally, so the skin gets scorched all over. Lower the heat to medium, carefully (it spits!) add the verjuice and reduce for a couple of minutes until there are about two tablespoons of liquid left in the pan. Add the tomato, 100ml of the stock, the capers, olives, thyme, sugar, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cook for two minutes, then return the fennel to the pan. Add the remaining stock, pop on the lid and leave to simmer for 12-14 minutes, turning once during the cooking, until the fennel is soft and the sauce has thickened. (You may need to remove the lid and increase the heat for the last two or three minutes.)
- Place two slices of fennel on each plate, spoon over the sauce and serve with a spoonful of ricotta and some freshly grated lemon zest. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve warm or at room temperature.