We planted fennel for the first time ever at Piedmont Biofarm, and we’re very happy with the results! It’s a lovely aromatic plant in the celery/parsley family that forms a large white bulb at its base and can be immediately identified by the sweet, anise-like aroma it produces. For people who don’t like licorice, the flavor can be mellowed by slow-roasting or cooking it down with other aromatic vegetables such as carrots or onions. In its raw form, it’s a great addition to salads when sliced thinly and marinated with a little salt and vinaigrette.
Processing the bulb for cooking is most common, and many TV cooks will advise you to remove the core by quartering it, and then cutting it out at an angle. This is a mistake! Our fennel is young and tender, and as long as it is cut and/or cooked properly, you needn’t waste a bulk of its mass. They’re a little more fibrous than an onion, but just as easy to chop up. You should experiment using it interchangeably in stir-fries and sauces that begin by either sweating or sauteing onion, celery, and/or carrots. Roughly chopping it and roasting it in a pan with potatoes, oil, salt, lemon, and fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme will make a nice side for this weekend’s dinner at home or a pot-luck. And if you’re into roasting chicken, this is a perfect vegetable to throw into the dish with a whole bird, letting the juices from the bird baste the fennel, while the steam from the vegetable itself gently cooks the meat.
Slow-cooking onions for several hours on a very low heat will yield a delicious batch of caramelized onions that will store in the fridge for weeks and can be used as a condiment for burgers or a topping for pizza. To get this to the next level, we recommend adding fennel, lemon peel, brandy, butter, and see where that takes you!
Whether or not you can envision yourself enjoying fennel in its raw form, we urge you to experiment with it. All you need is a sharp knife or a mandolin, so that you can create very thin slices. If you want to soften the texture of the fennel, simply season it with salt and lemon juice, and let it sit for 5 minutes. If should be very flexible at this point and can be added to green salad, or folded into freshly cooked pasta to add freshness and texture. Linguini with fennel, romano cheese, freshly cracked black pepper, summer squash, and sage would be a great main course for dinner this week!
The other great thing about fennel is that you get great value from using the whole plant. The fronds can be used like an herb in any recipe where you might use dill. It pairs well with potatoes, fish, beets, and goat cheese. The stem has a stronger and sweet licorice flavor, and makes a great addition to chicken or fish stock and can be made into a really tasty pickle.
Enjoy this unique treat this week, let us know what you think, and we’ll grow a lot more next year!