At a glance, fennel seems to have sort of a dual nature: there's that neat, compact, pale bulb at the base, yet it is crowned by the riotous exuberance of its frilly, frondy top. Sort of like someone who typically wears the most sensible of perfectly polished shoes, then on a whim goes out and gets a great big perm.
I was was thinking sorbet, something that could serve as an intermezzo rather than a true dessert. The clean, crisp flavor of fennel seemed a good fit. But I wanted to deepen its flavor a bit, so I tossed the slices with some honey and then roasted them in the oven until lightly caramelized. While the fennel was roasting, I infused some of the happy fronds into the sugar syrup tarted up with some white wine as it heated, then strained them out. Finally, I gave the purée a final kiss with juice from some charred lemon to play up the savory notes. —boulangere
about a quart
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, thinly sliced and chopped
2 ounces honey warmed in the microwave for 30 seconds
In a bowl, toss the fennel slices with the warm honey, then spread them out evenly in a baking dish. Roast until lightly caramelized, about 30 minutes, and worth every single one. Your kitchen will begin to smell positively perfumed. When done, remove from the oven and immediately scrape into your blender or food processor. If you don't do this right away, you'll never separate the fennel & honey from the baking dish. Just a heads-up.
Meanwhile, place the saucepan in which you plan to make the simple syrup over medium-high heat. When hot, place the lemon halves in it, cut side down (remove visible seeds). Hold them in place with some pressure until you can lift them and see that they have begun to char nicely, about 90 seconds. Set them aside. There will be some char marks in the bottom of the pan. Leave them. You'll be glad you did.
While the fennel is roasting, prepare the simple syrup. Measure 3 ounces of water and 1/2 cup of sugar into the saucepan bearing the char marks. Stir, and bring to a boil. Stir once more to be sure all the sugar has dissolved and that you've deglazed the lemon char. Add the white wine, fennel fronds, and salt. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and allow the fronds to steep for 10 minutes. At the end of that time, hold a small strainer over a blender or food processor and pour the sorbet syrup through it to remove the fennel fronds (which you can discard). Add the roasted fennel. Purée until entirely smooth, stopping and scraping down sides as needed. Squeeze in the juice from the charred lemons and mix once more.
Pour the purée into a stainless steel mixing bowl and set it in a larger bowl filled with an ice water bath. Stir occasionally to chill it thoroughly before spinning in an ice cream maker. Chill to at least 40 degrees. I like to refrigerate the purée overnight to chill it.
Pour the chilled purée into your ice cream maker, and spin according to its directions. Just before spinning, whisk an egg white with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt until light and frothy, about a minute. Add to the purée, and turn on the machine.
When the sorbet has reached its maximum amount of freezing in the machine, scrape it into a container and place in the freezer. Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving. You can speed up its freezing by placing it in a broad, shallow container. I like to freeze it overnight just to be sure that it's fully frozen to the center.
To serve, drop scoops into chilled glasses. Champagne flutes are an especially elegant way to serve this tamed creation. Garnish with some of those wild fronds.