As some of you may remember, I have a significant foodie-crush on Yotam Ottolenghi. His “vibrant vegetable recipes” successfully took vegetarian cuisine out of the niche and into the mainstream, mostly due to the fact that he focuses on what the food is, not what it isn’t. Finally someone who gets it.
This recipe was inspired by one of Ottolenghi’s simpler dishes, caramelized fennel and goat’s cheese, which I thought would taste pretty spectacular on a flatbread base piled high with dressed greens. It was so incredibly tasty I felt that I needed to save it for a special occasion, so when the gorgeous Australian eco-lifestyle magazine, Peppermint, approached me to submit a recipe, I had this little number red hot and ready.
Getting Fresh with Fennel
Fennel is one of my absolute favorite vegetables. It is crisp, fresh, and licorice-y, and fantastic both cooked and raw. I dig the fact that every part of fennel can be eaten, including the seeds, which are sweet and pungent. With a fantastic, flavour-concentrated crunch they add anise-like sparks to salads, curried stews, soups, and grain dishes. Looking for a natural breath-freshener? Chew on the seeds. They are delicious and really work.
Fennel has been used as a healing food throughout history. Hippocrates prescribed fennel tea to stimulate milk production in nursing mothers, a “folk remedy” that is still used today. The English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper treated kidney stones, liver, lung ailments, and gout with fennel. Nutritionists today agree that fennel aids digestion, relieves flatulence, constipation, diarrhea, menstrual disorders, and helps treat anemia. 
Key nutrients in fennel include calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin A. The most fascinating phytonutrient compound in fennel, however, may be anethole—the primary component of its volatile oil. In animal studies, the anethole in fennel has repeatedly been shown to reduce inflammation and to help prevent the occurrence of cancer. 
In this recipe, the fennel is caramelized with maple syrup instead of sugar, and tossed with its own seeds adding little fireworks of flavour. This combined with goats cheese creates the addictive salty-sweet combo I fall for every time. After baking, I like to pile on peppery greens – and I add a lot more than in the photo! Dressed with a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of citrusy olive oil and some flaky sea salt, this flatbread can make a delicious main, or cut it up into small bite-sized pieces perfect for an appetizer. It’s also amazing served cold, making an ideal accompaniment to frosty summer drinks on the back porch.
The flatbread dough is a breeze to make, and any leftovers can be frozen. I like making a double batch, throwing half in the freezer for a quick, yet very impressive meal for unexpected guests. You can also add fresh or dried herbs to the dough for more flavour – rosemary and thyme are my favorites. Try kneading in a handful of toasted sesame, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds too. Fennel seeds? Excellent suggestion. I always like to have these basic, customizable recipes on file to dress up according to the season, the meal, or just what I am in the mood for. This flatbread is a delicious, easy base recipe to stash away or even memorize.
Caramelized Fennel & Goat Cheese Flatbread
1 batch spelt flatbread dough
1 batch caramelized fennel
100 grams / 3 oz. soft goats cheese
1 large bunch arugula
1 Tbsp. grapefruit-infused olive oil (regular olive oil is fine)
juice of ½ lemon
Makes 3-4 flatbreads
2 ½ cups light spelt flour
1 cup whole spelt flour
1 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tbsp dry active yeast
3 Tbsp. olive oil
a few pinches of flaky sea salt (Maldon is a good brand)
1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.
2. Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of lukewarm water, add to flour and stir in with the oil.
3. Continue stirring until you have a uniform texture, then start kneading by hand in the bowl, or on a large, clean surface. Knead for 5 about minutes.
4. Cover ball of dough with flour and place underneath a damp towel for 1-2 hours until the volume is approximately double.
5. Divide dough for 4 small flatbreads, 2 large or 1 “party size”. Cover with a damp cloth until use.
Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe in Plenty
This can be done while you are waiting for your dough to rise.
2 large fennel bulbs
ghee or coconut oil
4 Tbsp. fennel seeds
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
1. Wash the fennel and remove fronds. Slice the bulb thinly on the vertical (from top to the bulb base).
2. Heat ghee or oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Place fennel slices on the pan, making sure that they all come into contact with the surface of the skillet (not overlapping). Sprinkle with sea salt. Do not stir or move the fennel for a few minutes, until golden on the bottom side. When all the pieces have browned, flip onto the uncooked side. When the underside has also browned, add a sprinkling of fennel seeds and 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup, let cook for 1 minute. Toss to coat, remove fennel from pan and repeat until all the fennel is cooked. Season to taste.
1. Preheat to 350°F. Place a cookie sheet or baking stone in the oven while it comes up to temperature.
2. Roll out a desired portion of flatbread dough on a piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and roll to press into the dough. Add caramelized fennel, and drops of goat’s cheese. Remove stone from oven and slide the parchment on top. Bake flatbread for approximately 30 minutes until the crust is golden and cheese has slightly browned.
3. While the flatbread is baking, prepare the arugula for serving. Wash and spin dry. Drizzle with grapefruit-infused olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to coat. Season to taste.
4. Remove flatbread from oven, let cool slightly and pile high with dressed arugula. Serve immediately. Share and enjoy.
If you live in Australia, pick up this season’s issue of Peppermint magazine. It is a beautiful publication and one I am very proud to be featured in. Thank you Peppermint! I am honored.
Sources:  Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Dietary Wellness.
Copyright 2012 My New Roots at mynewroots.blogspot.com