Fennel is a crunchy, anise-flavored, bulb-like vegetable with edible stalks, fronds and seeds that is at its best during winter. It has been known to mankind since ancient Greece, but judging by the number of questions I get from curious shoppers whenever I fill a bag with fennel bulbs at the supermarket, it looks like not many know how to use it.
A simple fennel salad replaces the regular Arabic salad in my house during winter and throughout the year. It’s a combination of thinly sliced fennel, celery and green onion, kohlrabi, if I can find it, freshly squeezed lemon juice, corn oil and salt.
But looking through Mediterranean cuisine, especially Italian recipes, you can learn just how versatile fennel can really be. The options include but are not limited to grilled fennel in olive oil, fennel salads with citrus and olives, and fennel gratins, soups and pasta.
When selecting fennel, make sure it’s firm, tight without spotting and that the stalks, if still attached, are also firm and green. Smaller bulbs tend to be sweeter and less stringy.
Here are some recipes to try.
Fennel, Avocado and Olives Salad
If you’re lucky enough to get fennel with stalks and fronds still attached, use them all in this salad.
I used kalamata olives. The bitter, cracked, Middle Eastern olives will also work well.
3 medium fennel bulbs (including stalks, if available)
1 medium yellow onion (or a bunch of green onions), thinly sliced
Juice of 2 lemons
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 firm avocado
½ - 1 Serrano pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
¼ cup pitted olives, chopped
¼ lb. crumbled feta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Trim fennel bulbs (keep stalks and fronds, if available), discard the core, cut bulb in half and slice each half very thin (you can use a mandolin). Slice stalks thin and chop about ¼ cup of the fronds to add to the salad as well. Transfer the sliced fennel to a large bowl. Add sliced onion. Add lemon juice and salt and mix well.
2. Cut avocado in half, discard pit. Slice each half into thin slices and remove from skin with a large spoon. Add to the salad bowl. Top with Serrano pepper, olives, feta and olive oil, mix gently and serve.
Fennel and bean soup
I used canned beans, but you can cook your own and add the pre-cooked beans to the soup as directed.
2 medium fennels
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, sliced
½ cup white wine
1 tomato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken or vegetable soup
2 x 15 oz. cans great northern beans (or any other beans), washed and drained
Kosher salt to taste
1. Trim fennel bulbs (keep stalks and fronds, if available), discard the core, cut bulb in half and slice each half. Slice stalks and chop about ¼ cup of the fronds, discard the rest.
2. In a large soup pot heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add fennel seeds and stir for a minute, then add fennel (bulb, stalks and fronds), onion and carrot. Sauté the vegetables for about 8 minutes, until golden, then add white wine. Let the wine reduce to half and add tomato and chicken broth. Bring to boil, add cooked beans, stir and reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes. Add salt to taste.
3. Drizzle with olive oil when serving.
Orange glazed salmon over roasted fennel
1 cup orange juice (from 2 large oranges)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter or margerine, divided
¼ teaspoon white pepper
6 x 6 oz. salmon fillets
3-4 medium fennels, sliced thin, fronds kept for decoration
1. Make the orange glaze: In a small sauce pan put orange juice and sugar over medium heat and cook until it reduces to ¼ cup (about 6-8 minutes). Stir frequently. Add butter and stir to incorporate, then season with white pepper and salt to taste and let cool.
2. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with oil, arrange sliced fennel on them, spray fennel with oil, sprinkle kosher salt and top with the rest of the butter, sliced into small cubes. Set aside.
3. Spray an oven proof tray with oil, arrange salmon fillet on top and brush generously with orange glaze. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
4. In the meantime, roast the fennel for about 15 minutes, until it is tender. Remove from the oven, divide between 6 plates and keep warm.
5. Preheat the broiler. Broil salmon for about 10 minutes, until the fillets are just cooked through. Arrange salmon fillet on roasted fennel and serve.