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Fennel: A Key Ingredient in Mediterranean Cuisine

March 22, 2011

Nome de plume of Francine Wolfe Schwartz

At first glance, fennel almost looks like celery having a very bad hair day or celery strangely crossed with dill. Although closely related in flavor to celery and may be used in recipes like celery, fennel is far from tasting like dill. It has a gentle sweet licorice flavor and in Italy raw fennel is eaten as a natural digestive aid.

Fennel is very popular in Italian and French cooking and is the essential ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes using the fronds (the feathery part), stalks and bulbs.

Use fennel by separating the bulb from the stalks at the point where they emerge from the bulb.  Store the feathery fronds in a glass with a few inches of water.  Cover the glass with a plastic bag and store refrigerated up to five days.  Use as a licorice flavored herb or garnish.  Store the unwashed bulb in plastic bag in the refrigerator for at least a week.

Cut the bulb in half lengthwise. If the inner core is tough, remove with a paring knife and discard.  Wash all layers of the bulb well to remove any dirt collected.  Rub lemon juice over cut edges to prevent discoloration.

Fennel can be used cooked or raw.  Once cooked, the flavor is mild and sweet. Serve raw sliced on a crudités platter instead of celery or in a salad.  The Italians enjoy fennel simply served on it’s own with salt and a bowl of fine olive oil for dipping into.


Warm Olives and Fennel

 2 cups of assorted olives

1  Anaheim chile, chopped or (1/4 teaspoon dried red peppers)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 fennel bulb, shaved

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Heat olives and Anaheim chile in oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and toss with fennel and orange zest.  Serve with crusty, thinly sliced Italian bread or a French baguette.


Tomato and Fennel Risotto

 serves 6

6 Roma tomatoes*

olive oil

1 (14-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, mashed

2 cups vegetable stock

1 cup red wine (Sangiovese or Chianti)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced

2 cups arborio rice

1/3 cup grated dry goats’ cheese or parmesan cheese

freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven 350 degrees F

Place tomatoes on a baking tray.  Drizzle with olive oil and freshly ground pepper.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine canned tomatoes, stock and wine in a saucepan.  Bring to a steady simmer.

Place 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy bottom 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions and garlic to pan and cook for 3 minutes or until soft.  Add fennel to pan and cook 8-10 minutes or until soft.

Add rice to pan and cook stirring, until rice is translucent.  Add stock mixture 1 cup at a time, stirring until liquid has been absorbed.  Repeat until all liquid has been used or until rice is tender but firm.  Stir in cheese and pepper.

To serve place risotto in shallow plates and serve with roasted tomatoes and if desired thinly sliced rare roast beef.

*Recipe maybe prepared without roasted tomatoes.

(source: The New Cook by Donna Hay)


Orange & Fennel Salad

serves four

4 large juicy oranges (use blood oranges for a stunning option)

1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

12 red seedless grapes, halved

finely chopped fresh parsley

Finely grate peel of the oranges into a bowl.  Set aside.  Working over another bowl to catch the juice, remove all the white pith from the oranges, Cut the oranges horizontally into thin slices.

Gently toss the oranges slices and fennel in a large bowl.    Arrange fennel and sliced oranges on individual salad plates or serving platter.

Whisk the oil and reserved orange juice, spoon over sliced oranges and fennel.

Sprinkle grapes, orange zest and parsley over the salad.

(source: The Vegetarian Cookbook edited by Nicola Graimes)

(source: Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2009)


Roasted Fennel

serves six

4 large fennel bulbs

1/2 cup good olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice the bulb in half lengthwise. Wash well and pat dry with a paper towel.  With the cut side down, slice the bulb vertically into 1/2-inch slices, cutting right through the core. Spread the fennel slices on a baking sheet, coat with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Toss with your hands.

Roast the fennel slices for about an hour, turning once after 30 minutes, until the edges are crisp and brown.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and roast for 5 more minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper and serve.

adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

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