Tuesday, December 8, 2009

F is for fennel

Fennel is among the most versatile of vegetables: it’s good whether eaten raw in salads, or cooked in any number of ways. I enjoy it roasted with other root vegetables as a side dish, or used as an aromatic vegetable, often instead of celery in mirepoix (diced carrots, onion and celery) and other preparations. The flavor of the pale white bulb is reminiscent of anise or licorice. The fibrous green stalks with feathery leaves can be added to stocks for an added depth of flavor. The dark green feathery fronds are a nice touch as a flavorful garnish.

To prepare fennel, trim away the darker fibrous stalk and bottom end, and remove any outer layers that are tough or blemished. Fennel should be cut close to the time it is needed, as it will oxidize and brown over time. Many recipes ask you to remove the core, but I don’t find it necessary; I like the taste of the core and find it quite tender.

One way recently I have enjoyed fennel is by braising it some water with splash of white wine. I serve it with a cabernet wine reduction and a few crumbles of blue cheese. It is a nice light lunch or along side pork roast for dinner.


Braised Fennel
Loosely adapted from Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food

2 or3 fennel bulbs
¼ cup white wine (optional)
4 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
Olive oil
Fennel tops

Trim away the root end, cut of the leafy tops and fibrous stalk, peel away any bruised outer layers. Cut each bulb in half and then into three or four wedges. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and brown the fennel wedges lightly, and then add 2 cups of water with the wine, thyme, bay leaf and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Continue cooking, turning every once in a while until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

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