Friday, June 21, 2013

So, What's Up with Fennel? By Melinda

Fennel (Finocchio in Italian) is a pretty, bulbing plant with stalks above the bulb and delicate fronds on the stalks. It has a somewhat sweet anise or licorice flavor, especially when it's raw. Though it's the bulb that's used most often, you also can use the stalks to make broth, or you can chop them finely & saute with other veggies (stalks are NOT inedible!). The fronds can be chopped and added to salads or used as a garnish on other dishes. I'm thinking of adding some to my next pesto.
Photo Source
The fennel bulb, thinly sliced, is crunchy, a bit sweet, and tastes like anise or licorice, though not as strong as the candy. It's delicious, thinly sliced and raw, in salads. When it's cooked in various preparations, however, the anise taste becomes more mellow and far less pronounced. Still, it brings a richness to dishes that's hard to beat, especially given that it's quite low in calories!

So how do you prepare fennel bulbs? First you cut a small slice off the root end, then slice the whole bulb in half vertically. When you look at the halves, you'll see a triangular core in each half, just above where the root was. With a sharp knife, gently cut out the core in each half, slicing inward from each side of the core toward the center; then remove the core. Then  you can either chunk it, slice it, or dice it. See the video below for a demonstration.

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 fennel bulbs, cut horizontally into 1/3-inch thick slices, fronds reserved
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly oil the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange the fennel in the dish. Season w/ salt/pepper and sprinkle with the Parm. Drizzle w/ the oil. Bake till the fennel is fork-tender & the top is golden brown, ~45 min. Chop enough fennel fronds to make 2 tsp, then sprinkle over roasted fennel and serve.

Carrot Fennel  Soup with Parsley Walnut Pesto--vegan
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onions, peeled & chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored & thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
  • 6 cups veggie broth
  • 1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled [or just scrubbed?--that's what I'd do], sliced in 1/2-in. rounds
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp [or to taste] salt
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice or apple-cider vinegar
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • cream or milk (cashew, soy, almond, etc.--or dairy if desired) for garnish
  • parsley walnut pesto (see below)
Heat oil in 6-qt pot on medium. Add onion & cook 5 min., stirring a bit, till softened. Add fennel, cook another 5 min., stirring occasionally. Add stock, carrots, parsley, thyme, & salt, then bring to boil. Turn heat to low & simmer, partially covered, till carrots are very tender, ~30 min. Add lemon juice or vinegar.
Picture source
Remove soup from heat & let cool a bit. Use an immersion blender (aka "stick blender" or "boat motor"--see here: it's a really handy, inexpensive device to have) or an upright blender (blend in small amounts) to puree the soup till very smooth. Reheat soup in pot, add pepper and swirls of cream or milk if using. Serve w/ a spoonful of parsley pesto in each bowl. (recipe source)

Parsley Walnut Pesto--makes ~1 cup
  • 2 loosely packed cups parsley leaves, rinsed & dried
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cloves peeled garlic
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
Combine parsley w/ pinch of salt, garlic, walnuts, & 1/4 cup oil in food processor or blender. Process till smooth, stopping to scrape down sides of container as necessary & adding remaining 1/4 cup oil gradually. Store in jar in fridge up to 2 weeks or in freezer up to 3 months. (recipe source)

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