Friday, January 25, 2013
Discovering the Versatile Fennel | Roasted Fennel with Parmesan
I go through food phases once in a while. Or maybe they're kicks. I don't know. I just know that every once in a while, I latch onto one particular food and cook the death out of it. There was the bean phase -- cannelini, black, pintos, garbanzos. And then peppers: jalapenos, poblanos, serranos, up and down the Scoville scale. And we can't forget the squash phase.
Now it's fennel's turn in the hopper. I've cooked with fennel a lot, the seeds at least. They are a standard when I cook with sausage (which is often, since Mr. Rosemary thinks it's a food group unto its own.) And I add it to stews and soups. But the whole thing? Nope. Never.
The reason is that it's usually not readily available around here. Until lately. Now, I seem to find it every time I shop. It's partly the season; partly due to the speed of commercial transit in this country.
It all started at Christmas time. I was planning on serving simple roasted vegetables -- broccoli and cauliflower -- to go along with the fussier pork Wellington. (A post for another day.) I happened upon a couple bulbs of fennel and spontaneously decided that roasted fennel would go on the menu, too, as I was expecting other enthusiastic taste tasters for dinner.
"What's that?," asked granddaughter Emma.
"You've had that before," answered Uncle Dan. "It's fennel."
"Hmm, . . . . looks different," she said.
It was probably because I'd sliced it vertically instead of chopped. But if I was serving a different vegetable, I was looking for some "Ta-da" drama!
It was a surprising success at dinner. I delighted in it, everyone at least sampled it along with all our other goodies, and Emma had seconds.
Since then, I've purchased fennel a number of times and have added it to stews, soups and casseroles chopped it into salads, and roasted it some more.
Fennel has a unique taste. Some say it tastes like licorice, but I think it's more of a cross between celery and onion, with a slightly sweet cast. I read an article on Culinate that described fennel as "a wispy, aristocratic" vegetable. Pretty poetic. The fronds of the fennel bulb resemble dill and can be used chopped finely like dill in just about anything you use dill in.
It is remarkably versatile and I found another article in which the cook/author outlines "Twelve Ways to Cook Fennel, " a very helpful resource. And just today I found a blog post on Stacey Snacks with a recipe for a fennel gratin, the next thing on my fennel crusade.
If you haven't tried it yet, you'll be surprised, especially roasted.
Roasted Fennel with Parmesan
only slightly adapted from Giada Di Laurentis
(I sliced it vertically; her recipe said to slice it horizontally!)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 fennel bulbs, cut horizontally into 1/3-inch thick slices, fronds reserved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Lightly oil the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. (I lightly sprayed foil with olive oil.) Arrange the fennel in the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with the Parmesan. Drizzle with the oil. Bake until the fennel is fork-tender and the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Chop enough fennel fronds to equal 2 teaspoons, then sprinkle over the roasted fennel.