I love Fennel. I love the crunch, I love the flavor, I love the look, and I love the way it makes me think about being a little kid.
Being Italian, Fennel is something that you put out on the dinner table for people to snack on before and throughout dinner. I think this started because since ancient times Fennel has been used a a natural means to settle an upset stomach. In my world that tradition faded over time, so it will always remain something that will remind me of the holidays at my grandparents house. There was Fennel, Celery, Carrots, and both green and black Olives. As a kid the Fennel was to eat and the olives were for me and my cousin to stick on our finger tips and chase each other around. More recently Fennel is something that I eat at least once a week. It simply adds crunch to a salad or can even be the star of a dinner.
A lot of people do not like Fennel because of the liquorice taste. I am a big fan of that taste. Sadly people let their view of Fennel stop there and never try it cooked. Like an Onion or Garlic, Fennel is a totally different thing when it is cooked. It's flavor becomes very mellow and sweet. If you have it roasted, it is heaven with just a bit of salt, pepper, and Olive Oil. Or, with a little more creativity the flavor mellows enough when it's cooked so that you can use it and any number of different methods like the one I an about to show you recently posted in the New York Times.
If you haven't tried Fennel in a while I think this recipe is a great place to start. Remember; NOTHING is bad with cheese on it. NOTHING!
If you think this recipe is a little to difficult, or just more work than you are looking for, I suggest slicing a bulb of Fennel thin and sauteing it. It is easy and will not take you long to do. Again, just some salt, pepper, and Olive Oil and you are set. Wanna make it look fancy after it's sauteed? Toss in a little chopped Parsley at the end!
Fennel al Forno:
4 medium fennel bulbs, about 2 1/2 pounds, topped, a few green fronds reserved
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to oil the baking pan
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed or roughly powdered in a mortar or spice mill
3 garlic cloves
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary, plus 2 teaspoons rosemary leaves
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced or shredded
1/4 cup coarse dry homemade bread crumbs from an Italian or French loaf
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, or a mixture of parsley and fennel fronds.
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove a thin layer of the fennel bulbs’ tough exterior with a paring knife or sharp vegetable peeler. Cut the fennel crosswise into half-inch-thick slices. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Boil the fennel for 1 minute, then put it in a bowl of cold water, drain and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly oil an oven-proof baking dish. Layer in the fennel to a depth of 1 1/2 inches (pushing down, if necessary).
2. In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the fennel seed and the garlic, smashed to a paste with a little salt, the pepper flakes and the chopped rosemary. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of this mixture over the fennel. Sprinkle with the rosemary leaves. Cover with a layer of sliced or shredded mozzarella, then sprinkle with bread crumbs. Drizzle the remaining oil mixture, then sprinkle with Parmesan. (The dish may be prepared to this point several hours before baking.)
3. Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until nicely browned. Garnish with the chopped parsley or a mixture of the parsley and fennel fronds.
Hope you enjoy, and give Fennel a chance!!