Pickled Fennel Stalks
½ cup Champagne vinegar
1 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 star anise pods
Reserved fennel stalks, fronds removed and stalks cut into ¼-inch rounds (see Branzino, below)
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
⅓ cup fresh oregano, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ pound whole branzino or sea bass, scaled and gutted
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium fennel bulbs, bulb thinly sliced, stalks removed and reserved (see Pickled Fennel Stalks, above)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup Taggiasca olives or other green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1. In a medium saucepot set over medium-high heat, combine the Champagne vinegar, lemon juice and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sliced fennel stalks and simmer until the stalks begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool in the liquid.
2. Make the salsa verde: In a small bowl, combine the parsley, oregano, garlic and lemon juice. Gently stir in the olive oil and season with salt. Set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 425°. Rub the branzino with the olive oil and season the inside and outside liberally with salt. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven until the fish is just cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
4. In a medium skillet set over medium-high heat, cook the fennel bulb and red onion until they begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Drain the reserved pickled fennel and add to the fennel-onion mixture along with the olives. Gently stuff the branzino with the fennel mixture; top with salsa verde and serve immediately.