Grilled, braised, roasted or raw, fennel is an intense anise
tasting vegetable and people love or hate it for that. Fennel looks like a child of celery and dill
(though it is not either), its flowers blossom yellow and are often mistaken as
fennel “pollen”. But these little flowers carry fennel seeds. You might be
familiar with fennel seeds from Mediterranean cooking appearing often in
seafood dishes; also it is the basic spice used in Italian sausage and
meatballs. Personally fennel reminds me of eating licorice candy sticks when I
was a child.
(bulbous fresh fennel)
Fennel grows well in frost-free areas and even though it’s not grown locally right now I still consider it a super star in the repertoire of winter vegetables. The bulbs and seeds are not usually harvested from the same plant. The bulbous vegetable grows just above the soil level and is a versatile treasure. The green top part of the plant, I cut off and throw out because I don’t like the grassy flavor and its feathery texture.
Shave fennel thinly with a mandolin for salad preparations – this will make it more palatable and manageable in the mouth since fennel is a fibrous vegetable.
(shaved fennel salad with grapefruits and black olives)
If you want to grill fennel, slice in ½ - ¾-inch thick pieces and toss them in a bowl with sea salt, pepper and olive oil.
I like to cut thick wedges out of the fennel bulbs for recipes that require braising, i.e., where the fennel pieces are cooked partially immersed in liquid. Choose orange juice, chicken broth or white wine to braise the fennel in.
No fuss fennel
Fennel bulbs are on the rather pricy side so you can apply it sparingly in recipes and combine with other vegetables that are more economical like apples, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, etc. Fennel pairs nicely with naturally sweet foods such as grilled onions and dried fruits like raisins and cranberries.
I find the following recipe fuss-less and it can be whipped up within 15 minutes.
Fennel Salad with
(recipe makes four portions)
2 fennel bulbs
1 bunch or 6 stalks of scallions
2 lemons, juiced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
10 grindings black pepper from a mill
1 pinch cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Cut green top of fennel bulbs, discard and rinse the fennel with water.
- Slice fennel with a mandolin or with a knife.
- In a bowl combine lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne and stir with a fork. Add the olive oil, stirring consistently.
- Toss the sliced fennel into the dressing and let marinate for 10 minutes.
- With a knife cut top and bottom cap from grapefruit.
Cut entire grapefruit peel in a curved motion from top to bottom then cut
grapefruit into four wedges and across into triangular pieces.
Toss grapefruit pieces into the marinated fennel salad.
Chef’s Tip: If you happen to have juniper berries in your pantry add five pieces of finely chopped juniper berries to the salad. Juniper berries complement the fennel flavor perfectly.