This post is for my sister, Robin. Every few months I get a call: “I bought some Fennel. What should I do with it?” (don’t be fooled, my sister and I talk about 12 times a day. But the fennel call comes only rarely)
I love fennel! (weirdly, my other sister, Jodi hates it. How can you ‘hate’ fennel?) If it’s in season, I always have it in the house. Not only because I love the taste, but because a) it keeps a long time in the fridge and b) you can do so many things with it.
Which gets me back to my sister’s what-to-do question. Here follow some of my favorite fennel recipes. And let me know if you have any you want to share.
Fennel and Orange Salad
The first time I had this was eons ago at my friend Nina’s house. I remember thinking, how brilliant to use oranges in a salad! And if you’re thinking it’s too fruity or sweet, it’s not. It’s tart and crunchy and salty – a perfect winter salad.
2 large heads of fennel
1/3 cup good quality black olives, pitted
salt and pepper
Trim the fennel of its tough outer layer. Then cut bulb in half length wise. Thinly slice the bulbs length wise, trying to keep the core in tact, so that the slices stay together. (A lot of people slice it the other way, in rings, but the texture is much better if sliced lengthwise).
Cut the peel off of the oranges with a sharp knife. Do not just peel the orange, or else the white pith will remain. You want to cut off the skin and pith. Then slice the orange into disks.
Lay the fennel and orange on a platter (not a bowl, you don’t want it to get soupy) and scatter the olives on top. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Fennel and Pasta Soup
When I was living in Florence, working on my dissertation, my friend Debbie shared this recipe with me. It was perfect for a grad student: quick, cheap, healthy and filling. It’s now something I have often for lunch, since I can whip it up in about 20 minutes. My favorite is to use fennel, but I sometimes switch in broccoli. The trick is to only use one vegetable. You don’t want it tasting minestrone-y.
1 head of fennel
2 cups of broth
1/4 cup of small pasta for soup (I like quadretti)
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Cut the fennel up into small dice. Bring broth to boil. Add fennel and let cook for 8 minutes. Add pasta and cook until pasta is done. Pour in bowl and top with cheese.
Pasta with Braised Fennel
This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Pasta Harvest, by Janet Fletcher. My friend Melanie Doherty designed it, years ago, and gave me a copy while we were working together on our book Deruta. The book is fantastic, since it uses vegetables in very creative ways with pasta. The fennel recipe is one of the best in the book.
Janet’s recipe calls for using fresh linguine. I usually switch in dry pasta, like penne or rottelle.
Pasta with Braised Fennel, Walnuts, Saffron and Crema (From Pasta Harvest)
1/2 c. walnuts
3 medium fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 c. chicken stock
1/8 tsp packed saffron threads
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 pound pasta
1/4 c. finely minced scallions
1/4 c. minced parsley
Preheat oven to 180c/350f. Spread walnuts on baking sheet and toast until brown.
Clean fennel and chop into neat dice.
Melt butter and oil in skillet. Add fennel and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and add stock and saffron. Bring to simmer and cover and let cook until fennel is tender and much of liquid has evaporated. (about 10 mins). Stir in cream, and keep warm.
Cook pasta in large pot of salted water. Drain, reserving 1/2 c. of water. Transfer pasta to large bowl, and add contents of skillet, parsley, scallions and walnuts. Toss to coat, adding a bit of the cooking water if it is too thick.
Every time my friend Evan Kleiman comes to visit, this is what we ask her to make. It sounds easy, and is, but somehow Evan’s always comes out better. FYI, Evan owns a restaurant in LA, has written oodles of cookbooks (you probably own at least one) and is the host of KCRW’s Good Food. Here is Evan’s recipe, in her words:
When buying fennel look for the round ones. They are the females which makes them sweeter than their less round, more flat male counterparts. I’ve been reading Italian cookbooks lately and I love the direction QB, which means Quanto Basta or “Enough”.
4 Fresh Bulb Fennel
Olive Oil, QB
2 cups tomato sauce or chicken broth
Salt to taste
1 cup water
Parmesan cheese, grated
Trim the tops off the fennel bulbs. Trim the root end and remove the outer layer. It’s painful to get rid of so much of the delicious bulb, but you must. You can eat the trimmings as you work. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise.
Find a heavy pot that will accommodate all the fennel in one layer. Film the bottom of the pot with the oil. Set the trimmed fennel cut side down in the pot. If you have a pot that fits all the fennel tightly in one layer, that would be optimal.
Salt the fennel then pour the tomato sauce or chicken broth over. Add enough water so that the liquid comes ¼ the up the fennel. Cover the fennel completely with parchment paper so that it touches the veggie. Then put the lid on the pot. Cook the fennel over low-medium heat until it is lusciously soft adding more water, sauce or broth as you need to keep it moist and braising. Once the fennel is braised till soft remove from heat, remove parchment paper and sprinkle generously with grated parmesan. Place in 375 º oven until cheese is dotted golden brown. Serve with good bread to sop up the juices. Good hot, warm or cold.