Fennel is a flowering plant species in the carrot family. It is a hardy, perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves and has a fresh licorice flavour. It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean but has become widely naturalized in many parts of the world.
The stalks are flavourful but can be quite tough, so they are good for pickling or throwing into stocks. The fronds (green feathery bits) can easily be snipped off and used in place of fresh dill or other tender herbs. The bulb is where most of the action is and can be eaten raw or cooked. Simply cut off the stalks and trim the bulb to remove the toughest part of the core. You can also peel off the thin outer layer using a vegetable peeler if it is a bit fibrous or stringy. To maximize the crunch of raw fennel, thinly slice and soak in ice water for about 15-20 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
FENNEL CITRUS SALAD
For the Salad:
1 large bulb fennel
1 stalk celery
8 cups mixed greens
1 orange, peeled and sliced into segments
¼ cup candied pecans (or walnuts)
For the Dressing:
½ tsp orange zest
⅓ cup oil of your choice
¼ cup orange juice
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake until combined. Set aside.
Cut the rind off of the orange and cut into segments. Thinly slice celery on the diagonal.
Cut off the top stems of the fennel and remove any discolored outer leaves. If the bulb is really large, cut in half from root to stem.
Using a mandoline (or a very sharp knife) thinly slice the fennel bulb and place in a bowl, add celery and mixed greens. Drizzle with dressing and toss well.
Garnish the salad with walnuts and orange pieces.
ROASTED FENNEL, TOMATOES AND WHITE BEANS
2 large fennel bulbs
⅓ cup olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
2 pints cherry tomatoes or other small tomatoes (whatever is sweetest and ripest)
2 tbsp oregano (fresh is best)
5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans, drained
3 tbsp chopped fennel fronds, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Trim the fennel so you are left with just the white bulb. Cut the bulb in half vertically, from bottom to top, and then cut each half into 1/2-inch-wide wedges, slicing through the core, which will help keep the leaves attached to the wedge.
Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Add fennel wedges, arranging them in a single layer. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and cook, turning occasionally, until fennel begins to brown and soften, 10 minutes or so. Add tomatoes, oregano, garlic, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Fold together gently using a spatula.
Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake fennel and tomatoes until soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the skillet and gently mix in the drained beans; then bake for 5 minutes longer, to heat through.
Divide the mixture among large shallow bowls. Drizzle each bowl with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with coarse salt, black pepper and chopped fennel fronds or parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.