This is a savoury version of the French classic, and is incredibly light but very tasty. You will need a large sauté pan and a small 20cm frying pan with an ovenproof handle for this recipe. Tarte tatin pans are larger so if you are using one of those you will need to adjust volumes accordingly, with another 1–2 fennel bulbs and 100g of pastry to make it fit
3 large heads fennel
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
4 sprigs thyme, leaves picked from one
1 tablespoon Pernod (optional)
300g ready-made shortcrust pastry
150g goats’ cheese log, crumbled, rind discarded
Cut the tops off the fennel, reserving and chopping finely any feathery fronds. Shave a fine layer off the tough bottom, too. Cut the fennel lengthways into quarters, then eighths, so the pieces are still attached by the root (they will be like flattish triangles).
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the olive oil. When the butter is beginning to foam, add the fennel seeds and fry for 1 minute. Add the fennel pieces on their sides in one layer, tucking three of the thyme sprigs around them. Scrunch over a generous pinch of salt. Cook gently for 12–15 minutes or until the fennel pieces are just turning golden on one side. Turn them over and repeat, adding the Pernod towards the end if you are using it.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190°C/gas 5. And roll the pastry into a circle about 23cm diameter, or slightly larger than your frying pan.
When the fennel pieces are soft and golden, remove them from the sauté pan and drain off any excess oily liquid. Pack the fennel into the frying pan as tightly and neatly as possible, aiming to finish with a reasonably flat surface. Drape over the pastry, tucking the excess down between the fennel and pan. Make a single long slash through the middle of the pastry to allow steam to escape and bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Chop the leaves of the remaining sprig of thyme and combine with the chopped fennel fronds. Remove the tart from the oven, place a serving dish over the frying pan and invert the whole thing, allowing the tart to drop onto the plate pastry-side down. Sprinkle generously with the goats’ cheese, which will melt into the gaps, and finish with the chopped herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Joanna Weinberg has written cookery columns for The Times, Red and currently Condé Nast Traveller. She has written two cookbooks, How to Feed Your Friends with Relish and Cooking for Real Life, published by Bloomsbury, and runs Kitchen Table Cookery at The Talbot Inn, Somerset.