flaky baked fish with crunchy pine-nut & herb topping on a bed of sweet fennel

It seems like ages ago now that we had a lovely farewell dinner at Mum’s, for the 18-year old Henry – before he headed off for two weeks in Dubai staying with a friend, as you do, then had one day in Auckland before moving down to university in Wellington. (Yesterday!!!) Sniff. Mum made a delicious chicken dish that I had worked on when I was doing recipe development for Annabel Langbein – chicken thighs on a bed of leeks. It is very tasty indeed and for a long time I have been wanting to try a variation using sweet slightly aniseedy fennel with firm white fish. I finally got around to it and woo hoo – was thrilled with the resulting combination of silky, fragrant fennel, flaky white fish and crunchy, crumbly, nutty, crumb crust – success! Big thumbs up from the main critics too (Nick and Henry) so it must be good!
Pushing the ‘publish’ button on this as I sit in my hotel bed sipping tea having settled Henry into his flat yesterday. My design focussed son has transformed his grotty bedroom into a stylish haven already, so today I have a few gourmet treats to buy for the store cupboard and then I’m pretty much redundant!

25g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, peeled and sliced
4 fennel bulbs, feathery fronds removed and saved, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
finely grated zest of one lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp fennel fronds, finely chopped900g firm white fish fillets – I used blue cod
5 slices white toast bread or ciabatta, crusts removed
4 cloves garlic
30g (about 2 tbsp) butter at room temperature
finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup pinenuts
1/4 tsp chilli flakes

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat butter and olive oil in a big pot, add onion, fennel, garlic, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Cook over a medium/gentle heat for 20 minutes until fennel is starting to soften, but isn’t coloured. Add cream and wine and cook a further 15-20 minutes uncovered so that liquid is reduced and you are left with about 1/2 cup of creamy sauce with the fennel. Stir through fennel fronds and leave to cool while you prepare the crumbly topping.
For the topping, bung everything except pinenuts in the food processor and pulse to a chunky crumb – ad pinenuts and give one last quick pulse so they stay almost whole but incorporated in the mix.
Preheat oven to 200˚C (400˚F). Spread fennel mix evenly into a 28cm x 18cm baking dish. Trim fish to fit and line up on top. Lightly squish topping all over fish – not a firm squish, you don’t want a block of topping, just a light pokey squish so it stays where it should. Bake 30 minutes until fish flakes beautifully, fennel is creamy and luscious and topping is golden and crumbling. Salivating remembering it. Serves 4 but recipe can easily be doubled or one and a half’ed if you know what I mean. NB. If you have skinny fish (mine was thick) reduce cooking time to 20 minutes 🙂


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