I imagine that you have seen these unusual bulb shaped vegetables in the produce section at your market and wondered what you could possibly do with them. This bulb shaped vegetable, fennel, is actually a perennial herb that belongs to the carrot family, yet it is not a root vegetable. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is used frequently in their cuisine.
Fennel is a large layered white or pale green bulb with a crisp texture and feathery leaves. When eaten raw, it has a celery like consistency. The licorice flavor of fennel is its most identifiable and unforgettable feature.
Do not let the licorice flavor of the fennel deter you from its many versatile uses in your cooking. It is fabulous when eaten raw in salads with fresh apple slices and salad greens. I also like to serve it warm as a side or a main especially if it is caramelized fennel. Slow and easy cooking of the fennel results in a sweet taste and a more tender consistency.
After the tough parts of the bulb are removed, cut the fennel into 1/4″ slices. A gentle sauté in some good extra virgin olive oil will result in a much sweeter, tender, and mild vegetable that is well suited to roasted meats and seafoods. It is all about the slow cooking and the browning as opposed to quickly frying. Ottolenghi has a great caramelized fennel recipe that is served with goat cheese. Caramelized fennel also pairs well with fresh orange slices in a salad.
Sometimes when I caramelize fennel, I also add a whole onion thinly sliced and caramelize everything together. A little lemon and maybe even a sprinkle of parmesan at the end all work perfectly in complimenting and balancing the fennel. Get creative and add this versatile vegetable to your cooking repertoire. I served it recently as a side with the Cajun Shrimp Stew. You won’t regret it.
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