Nose-to-Tail Fennel

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Fennel is a generous vegetable. It graces the table in spring and early summer, where it keeps company with asparagus and baby onions, and then again in fall, when it cozies up to eggplant and peppers, then apples and winter squash.

In supermarkets I often see bulbs of fennel tightly wrapped in plastic, their stalks lopped off. This is too bad, because fennel’s generous nature extends beyond the bulb. The entire plant is edible, from that fat white bulb, which can be roasted, sautéed, or tossed raw into salad, to the feathery tips, which can be minced and tossed into soups and sauces. The seeds, as you probably know, are used in Italian cooking to flavor everything from sausages to cookies. And fennel pollen has become an increasingly popular, though expensive, spice. It has a potent, savory flavor that carries with it a hint of curry.

In between are the stalks. For years I tossed these out on the assumption that they were too tough to eat. Chef John Coletta set me straight. Coletta is chef-partner at Quartino, a restaurant and wine bar in Chicago that specializes in small plates. He makes a spicy roasted fennel salad that utilizes both the bulb and the lower stalks. When roasted, the fat stalks caramelize and turn tender, adding an additional layer of flavor and texture to the salad. I tasted Coletta’s fennel salad a few years ago when I was working on Big Night In, and he kindly shared the recipe with me for the book.

You may have noticed I said lower stalks. That’s because the thinner stalks toward the top of the plant do indeed tend to be tough. But instead of throwing them out I use them to flavor vegetable and chicken broth.

What are your favorite uses for fennel?

Makes 6 to 8 small servings

Chef John Coletta’s Calabrian Fennel Salad with Raisins and Red Finger Chiles

(from Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style)

Ingredients

  • 3 medium fennel bulb and thick lower stalks, cut into thin 2-inch-long strips (reserve fronds and thin stalks for other uses)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon thinly sliced red finger chile (such as cayenne or Thai chile)
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

Heat the oven to 475 degrees F.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the fennel, 1/2 cup olive oil, the salt and pepper and toss until the fennel is completely coated with the oil and seasoning. Spread the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast the fennel, turning it once or twice, until it is golden and lightly caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the fennel cool to room temperature.

In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil with the chile, raisins and sultanas, apple juice, white wine, and bay leaf. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook at a gentle simmer until the raisins are soft, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked raisins to a bowl and let cool. Discard the liquid and the bay leaf.

In a clean bowl, fold together the roasted fennel and cooked raisins with the lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or platter and serve. The salad is good warm, at room temperature, or cold.

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19 Responses to Nose-to-Tail Fennel

  1. Leah October 8, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    I like to roast fennel with olive oil, caraway seeds and a little good-quality sea salt – it makes a fabulous side dish – or finely chopped into a salad – it gives an unexpected pop of flavor!

    • Domenica October 8, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      Leah ~ the combination of fennel and caraway sounds wonderful, especially for fall. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. janie October 8, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I adore fennel! One of my favorite dishes is roasted chicken thighs with onion, fennel and pancetta. One of the woman at my farmers’ market told me about making a pesto with the fennel fronds and I love it!

    • Domenica October 8, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Fennel & pancetta is a match made in heaven, I agree. And fennel frond pesto = brilliant. Got to try it. Thanks Janie.

  3. Laura (Tutti Dolci) October 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    I love roasted fennel when I tried it in Italy with a variety of other vegetables. Scrumptious!

    • Domenica October 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Laura. Fennel goes well with lots of other vegetables. I especially like it with winter squash at this time of year.

  4. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen October 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    What a helpful post about fennel. I don’t know exactly how to use fennel, but you made it sound so simple, and such a flavorful ingredient. I will bookmark this post and recipe. Thanks for sharing, Domenica!

    • Domenica October 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      I hope you will give it a try, Betty Ann. It has such a distinctive flavor, especially when roasted.

  5. Elisa October 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I have this recipe for a long time and is delizioso!!!
    2 lg. fennel bulbs, stalks removed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2″ wedges
    2 c. heavy cream
    1 1/2 c. parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    4 Tbls. unsalted butter

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together fennel, cream, and 1 cup of cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a 3-qt. baking dish; dot with butter. Cover with foil and abake for one hour. Remove foil from baking dish, sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bake another 30 minutes. Serve hot.

    • Domenica October 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

      Wow ~ ricchissima, ma anche deliziosa. I can’t wait to try this. I think my kids will love it, too. Thanks Elisa.

  6. Emily : RainbowDelicious.com October 8, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    I’ve never really used fennel before so I’m excited to give this recipe a try, thanks for sharing!

    • Domenica October 9, 2012 at 11:41 am #

      Thanks for reading, Emily, and I’d love to hear what you think once you try fennel. I like it raw as well as cooked. It’s good in slaw, with a citrus vinaigrette.

  7. Melissa Dell'Orto October 9, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    thank you for a beautiful post. I just bought fennel at the farmer’s market and can’t wait to try this recipe. In the fall, I generally use fennel in a potato gratin with rosemary, garlic and cream. Its a bit decadent but good for a special occasion. Thanks again for another great recipe.

    • Domenica October 9, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      Thank you Melissa. Your gratin sounds delicious ~ a lovely side for Thanksgiving dinner.

  8. Frank October 14, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I usually chomp on the stalks while cooking (a kind of guilty pleasure I usually don’t like to talk about) but never thought to actually use them—I’ll have to try it! (But I’ll still save one stalk for nibbling…)

    • Domenica October 16, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      Frank, thank you for sharing your guilty pleasure. And I hereby absolve you from your guilt.

  9. Elisa October 16, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    My sister in law who lives in Milano sent me this link to a Torta di Finocchi. I made it last night. Forget the diet! Is delicious!

    http://cielomiomarito.blogspot.com/2010/12/torta-di-finocchi.html

    • Domenica October 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      That torta looks like my kind of recipe. Cute blog, too. Thank you for posting the link, Elisa.

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