You can use this versatile dish as an informal low-fat side dish served with halibut or roasted chicken breasts, or sprinkle it with a cup of grated gruyère cheese for a vegetarian main dish.
1. In a large saucepan or rice cooker, place the rice, 3 1/2 cups broth, and bay leaf. Cook, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the bay leaf.
2. Remove the stems and greens from the fennel bulbs and set them aside. Halve the bulbs lengthwise, place them, cut side down, on a cutting board, and cut them crosswise in 1/8-inch slices.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and sliced fennel and sauté for 10 minutes, or until translucent. Stir occasionally to keep the vegetables from sticking.
4. With a mortar and pestle or grinder, coarsely grind the fennel and coriander seeds. Separate the tender fennel greens from the woody stems and finely chop them, leaving a few sprigs for garnish.
5. To the sautéed vegetables, add the rice, fennel greens, fennel and coriander seeds, and paprika. Salt to taste. (At this point you may stir in the pistachios, bring the mixture to serving temperature, and serve as a side dish.)
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 3-quart shallow ovenproof casserole dish. Add the remaining 1 cup stock to the rice mixture and stir. Spread the mixture in the dish and smooth the top. Combine the bread crumbs, pistachios, and pepper in a small bowl, then sprinkle over the rice. Drizzle melted butter over the crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Serve garnished with fennel greens.
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