Fun with Fennel

Last week received tender, young fennel bulbs and fronds in our baskets. And if my sources are correct, we’ll be getting more in the coming weeks. Fennel is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with both culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe.

The bulb, fronds and seeds are widely used in a number of dishes around the world, but I’ve noticed here in the US, we’re not as familiar with it. In fact, when I served it at my last dinner party, one of the guests looked down at the plate and asked, “What is that?” But after one bite, she was hooked.

I’ve included my favorite recipe for braised fennel below. My husband and I make big batches, eating some and freezing the rest. If you can’t find preserved lemon (check for it at places like New Seasons and Sur La Table), then use fresh lemon juice and lemon peel.

Braised Fennel with Preserved Lemon
Serves 12

8 medium fennel bulbs
1 tablespoon butter
Syrup from preserved lemons
2 preserved lemons, cut into quarters and finely sliced
Salt and pepper

Cut fennel in quarters and remove core but keep leaves in tact. Cut pieces in half to make 8 wedges. In a large Dutch oven over medium high heat, add fennel, butter, syrup and lemons. Add enough water to almost cover fennel. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover. Cook 20 minutes until fennel is fork tender and liquid has almost evaporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Other than braising it, I love to eat fennel raw. Try slicing it very thin with a sharp knife or mandolin and adding it to salads for a fresh, crunchy texture. Personally I love to make a salad of shaved fennel, orange segments and dry cured back olives tossed with a little orange vinaigrette (orange zest, fresh squeezed orange juice, good olive oil, salt and pepper).

Happy fennel eating!