When eaten raw, fennel has a strong licorice flavor, providing a vivid addition to salads and crudité platters. But it is equally good cooked - sautéing or roasting deepens and sweetens the taste, pairing nicely with fish and meats such as pork. (It is fennel seeds that provide the distinctive flavor in many sausages).
Fennel is actually an herb, with feathery green leaves that look similar to dill. These are attached to large stalks that can be used as flavoring but not often eaten since they are hollow and stringy. It is the plump white bulbs at the bottom of these stems that are the choice parts of the plant.
As an herb with culinary and medicinal purposes, fennel has been considered holy by many civilizations – a gift from the gods. Fennel was one of nine sacred plants in the Anglo-Saxon culture, and was hung on doors, stuffed into keyholes and hung from the rafters on midsummer’s eve to ward off evil spirits in Britain. Various beliefs have also used fennel as a symbol of flattery, honor and bravery. For example, Roman soldiers and gladiators ate fennel seeds for courage. Sometimes called anise, fennel is actually a different flowering plant with a similar taste.
I first used fennel in a salad I found in one of Linda McCartney’s Cookbooks (recipe below). I fell in love with the taste and have been using it ever since. So when I saw this recipe for Pan Roast of Cod, Pears and Caramelized Fennel, I had to try it. It was excellent and very easy to make. The vegetables (and pears) softened yet retained some bite, and the buttery-melt-in-your-mouth cod was a perfect complement.
Pan Roast of Cod, Pears and Caramelized Fennel
20 minutes 1½ hours 8-10
Marinate fish: In a small bowl, combine , and . Rub marinade into . Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Prepare vegetables: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove stalks and outer layers from, and cut bulbs lengthwise into 8 parts each (reserve fronds for garnish). In a large ovenproof skillet or flameproof roasting pan, toss cut fennel with , , , , and . (Two skillets or pans can be used if necessary.) Place in oven and cook 25 minutes. Add , and to taste and (vegetable stock or water can be substituted) to skillet and continue to roast until vegetables are tender and deeply caramelized, 20-30 minutes more. Remove from oven and cover loosely with foil.
Increase oven temperature to highest setting. Place a baking sheet in oven for 5 minutes. Place cod fillets on hot baking sheet and cook until juices from fish turn from clear to opaque, 10-20 minutes depending on thickness of fillets. Remove from oven and transfer fillets to a large platter and keep warm. Remove foil and reheat vegetables in oven until very hot, about 5 minutes. To serve, place vegetables around fish and sprinkle with (optional). Garnish with .
Source: Fennel Recipes for Wintertime, Wall Street Journal Online
I think of this salad as a much more interesting version of cole slaw….
12 radishes, trimmed
3 bulbs fennel, trimmed
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 granny smith apple, cored
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ cup mayonnaise
Make four vertical cuts in each radish, crossing in the center. Soak in ice water until the “petals” open, 2-3 hours. Drain.
Cut the fennel bulbs lengthwise in half and cut out the hard core. Slice very finely. Cut the carrots into matchsticks. Dice the apple. Mix the lemon juice into the vegetables, and then toss with the mayonnaise. Pile into a salad bowl and garnish with the radishes.
Source: Linda's Kitchen by Linda McCartney
References: A Pinch of Herbs by Katy Holder and Gail Duff; Buying Produce by Jack Murdich