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Fall is fennel season

October 24, 2017 - 12:05am

Fall is the beginning of fennel season in the Mediterranean and the U.S. Until spring, its fresh, mild sweetness can be enjoyed as a raw vegetable, in entrees that are braised, sautéed or baked, in soups and stir-fries. Fennel’s graceful fronds can be used as a dill-like herb, and its seeds in many fish dishes or breads. A good source of vitamin A, fennel also offers calcium, potassium and phosphorus. When you buy it, choose crisp white bulbs with no browning, and bright green fronds. Refrigerate tightly wrapped in plastic for up to five days. If you’ve never cooked with fennel before, perhaps one of these easy recipes will help you fall for fennel.

Orange and Fennel Salad

When you crave something light and refreshing, especially on a gray, humid day, this is an easy salad. Recipe from “The Cook’s Bible” by Christopher Kimball; makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch strips

4 medium seedless oranges, peeled and sliced into rounds

In a bowl, whisk together orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. Once it starts to emulsify, oil can be added more quickly. Arrange fennel and orange on individual plates; drizzle with dressing. Garnish with fennel fronds, if desired.

Fennel Baked with Parmesan Cheese

Just three main ingredients and a bit of seasoning turn into a delicious side dish. Recipe from “Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book;” makes 4-6 servings

6 heads fennel, trimmed and quartered

Butter to coat baking dish

Fresh ground pepper

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook fennel in salted water until tender. The fennel should not still be crisp, but it should not be floppy either. Drain well; arrange in a generously buttered gratin dish. Grind fresh pepper over. Sprinkle on the cheese. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake fennel until cheese is golden brown and fennel is bubbling vigorously in buttery juices. Serve warm.

Chicken Salad with Fennel

You don’t even have to turn on the stove for this easy salad; your microwave and some deli chicken do all the work. Recipe from “Microwave Gourmet” by Barbara Kafka; makes 4 servings

1 cup chopped fennel (about 1 medium bulb)

1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 large onion)

1/2 cup asparagus pieces, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

About a pound cooked chicken, cut into half-inch chunks (about 3 1/2 cups)

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

3/4 cup mayonnaise

Chill a large mixing bowl while you prep your ingredients. Put fennel in a 2-cup glass measure with 1 tablespoon water. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap; cook at 100 percent power for 1 minute. Remove from microwave; drain and put into the chilled mixing bowl. Cook yellow onions and asparagus, separately, in same manner for 1 minute; place in chilled bowl. Add chicken to vegetables; toss with green onions and mayonnaise. Chill a few minutes before serving.

Fried Fennel Slices

Can fennel be comfort food? This tasty vegetarian entrée is chewy with a fresh, clean flavor. Serve it with garlic mayonnaise for even more richness. Recipe from “The Savory Way” by Deborah Madison; makes 4 servings

2 large or 3 small fennel bulbs

2 slices firm white bread

1 egg

1 heaping tablespoon chopped fennel greens

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Clarified butter or light olive oil

Wash fennel, then pry off the thick outer leaves if they are tough and scarred. Slice each fennel bulb lengthwise into pieces about 1/3-inch thick, leaving the core attached. You will end up with a cross section of the bulb. Remove crusts from bread; make crumbs from the pieces (in a food processor or by hand). Beat the egg, add fennel greens, and season with salt and pepper. Dip each piece of fennel into egg, then into a generous amount of bread crumbs. Heat butter or oil in a cast-iron skillet or other heavy pan. Add fennel; lower heat to medium-low, and cook slowly so fennel is done just as the crumbs have turned golden brown. Fry on both sides and serve hot, with a wedge of lemon if desired.

Fragrant Fennel in Fresh Fig Sauce

The name is a tongue-twister, and the elegant flavors will leave you speechless. Any type of fresh fig will do; substitute 3 cups of canned figs if fresh are not available. Recipe from “The Mayo Clinic Williams- Sonoma Cookbook;” makes 6 servings

6 small fennel bulbs, 3 pounds total, trimmed

1/2 cup vegetable broth

1 cup water

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 fresh figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cut each fennel bulb in half lengthwise through the base, then cut each piece in half again. Remove outer pieces of bulbs if they look tough or stringy. Coat a large nonstick frying pan with nonstick cooking spray; place over medium-high heat. Add fennel in a single layer and cook, turning, until lightly browned on all sides, 2-3 minutes. Add broth, water, salt and figs. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until fennel is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in vinegar and pepper; increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened slightly, 5-7 minutes. To serve, divide fennel among individual plates. Top each with an equal amount of fig sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm.

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