Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Top This: Braised Fennel Pizza (à la Paulie Gee's 'Anise and Anephew' Pie)

[Photographs: Adam Kuban]

"Paulie," I emailed, "I wanna feature your marinated kale pizza for Slice's Top This column. It's our series that tries to give home pizza cooks inspiration by showcasing unique or unusual toppings. You game?"

"I got just the pie," replied the man behind Brooklyn's Paulie Gee's. "It cannot be topped. My 'Anise and Anephew' has fior di latte, braised fennel, guanciale, and a post-oven drizzle of anisette cream with a garnish of fresh fennel fronds."

Holy crap. I love fennel. I was so there.

And Paulie may be right. The Anise and Anephew is really good. Spectacular, actually. The way the braised bulb works with the guanciale is amazing. Its mellow sweetness finds a beautiful companion in the salty cured pork cheek, and the anisette cream drizzle at the end emphasizes the fennel's licorice-like flavor. It's on the specials menu at Brooklyn-based Paulie Gee's now, and he seemed to indicate he may move it to the permanent menu depending on whether he can get fennel year-round. [How to make it, after the jumparooney.]

What You'll Need (for 4 smallish, 12-inch pizzas)

As always, this is less a "recipe" recipe than a mode of inspiration for you. Although the focus here is ostensibly the braised fennel as topping, you owe it to yourself to take a stab at re-creating the full monty. If you are vegetarian, you can omit the guanciale, Paulie says: "The fennel is fairly salty from the broth and still contrasts nicely with the cream. I've had a lot of vegetarians order it that way." omit the guanciale and try using vegetable broth for the braising liquid (see comments below). For our purposes here, I'm going to assume you've got a dough recipe you like or that you can follow the Reinhart recipe linked below.

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For the braised fennel topping alone:
• 1 fennel bulb
• A glug of olive oil
• 1 scant cup chicken broth

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For 4 ersatz Anise and Anephew pies:
Everything as above, plus ...
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 scant cup heavy cream
• 1/2 cup anisette (Paulie uses Leroux)
• 24 ounces fior di latte mozzarella
• 28 to 30 very thin slices of guanciale
• 4 dough portions (Peter Reinhart's Neapolitan dough recipe works well)

Braised Fennel Procedure

The gist is this ... reserve some of the fennel fronds before lopping off the stalks. Remove any of the stringy outer layer with a vegetable peeler, if you'd like. Then cut the bulb lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide slivers about 1 1/2 inches long. Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a medium-hot fry pan or sauté pan (enough to cover the bottom). Sauté the fennel until it caramelizes a bit and reaches a medium brown, about 7 minutes. Add the chicken stock and cover the pan, braising over medium heat until the fennel is golden brown and tender, about 7 minutes more. Remove from heat, place in a bowl and let cool before using.

For the full-on, no-holds-barred Anise and Anephew how-to, get jiggy wit' the slides above.

Outro: 'Top That!'

About this column: Top This attempts to bring you a topping idea you can use on your pizzas at home. Got a topping or topping combo you'd like to see covered? Shoot me an email: adam@sliceny.com. —The Mgmt.

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