At Market: Fennel!
Perhaps the bright spot to the winter is this one vegetable. It is its’ dried seeds–used to flavor pork sausages– that most people may recognize. Virtually unknown outside the Med in its fresh version, it looks like a cross between a cabbage and an onion. Sometimes you’ll find it with stalks growing out of it, covered in feathery green fronds that resemble dill.
If you don’t like cabbage, onion or dill, you’re in luck–it is none of those. What I treasure about this funny-looking overlooked root vegetable is its’ versatility on the plate. The white bulb is crisp and fresh if eaten raw, naturally smoky when roasted, yet loses none of its sublime flavor if braised or added into soup. It adds loads of flavor into everything I cook in the winter and early spring. In fact, after garlic and onions, it is my go-to add-in when making a soffrito (the Italian base for creating truly delicious dishes), stuffing, soups or as a raw or cooked contorno to accompany fish or meats.
How to prepare it
In the market, you may find the fronds attached or just the bulbs. You can use those green parts to make broth for risotto, or stick them in the pan if you’re roasting meats. The stalks are thick and fibrous, so the texture isn’t suitable for consumption but they are full of flavor. Clip off a handful of the feathery parts to use for garnish. Remove the outer layer like you would an onion and cut off just the bottom part of the root. A perfect fennel bulb should be bright white with little to no yellowy blemishes, firm like an onion.
Bang for your buck
Here are some of the ways we enjoy it here at Cerines. Work it into your cooking and you’ll realize it will become a cornerstone of your late-fall to early-spring dishes. Oh, and it also has some pretty impressive health and digestive benefits, too.
Turn the bulb so the bottom is level with the cutting surface. Using a sharp knife, cut into medium-thick slices. Toss with some olive oil and sea salt and roasted in a 210°/400° oven for 20 minutes, turning once. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.
Italian vegetarian base for soups and sauces, click here for the recipe.
For a great bread stuffing base, make the soffritto as directed above, omitting the carrots. Add in 6 cups dried bread, cut into cubes. Finish with 2 T. white table wine. Combine. Allow to cool and stuff a bird or 4-6 thick-cut pork chops.
Insalata di finocchio
In a food processor, process bulb using the thinnest disc. Just before serving, toss with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Turn onto a platter and garnish with toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds.