I got fennel this week. Okay that’s a lie. I actually got it two weeks ago and it took me this whole time to work up to using it.
I have never liked anise, licorice, ouzo, even Italian sausage took some getting used to (I got over that one eventually. I mean come on, it’s sausage.) In case you were wondering, fennel and anise are not the same thing. they are different plants, but fennel is always said to be anise-flavored. Nobody ever says anise tastes like fennel. Zero respect for the fennel. Anyway, here I was with this fennel. I was so close to throwing it out. Within a whisker. But damn it, the whole point of this venture is to work outside the box, stretch my horizons, etc., so I decided to give it a shot. Because of the aforementioned distaste for, well, the taste, I have very limited knowledge of the possibilities here. I had fish baked with fennel once, and they seem to include it in a lot of the dishes served in the Game Of Thrones books, and there is the Italian sausage thing, though that’s just fennel seed. Not that I was planning on making sausage, I’m just laying out the facts as I knew them.
I tapped the roommate resource first:
“Hey Shae, what do you know about fennel?”
“I know it goes in Italian sausage.”
“Right. Me too. That’s about all I got.”
Chad walked in the kitchen a minute later, and so I asked him as well:
“Hey Chad, got any ideas for using fennel?”
“Ah, well, it always makes me think of Italian sausage…”
“You’re not alone.”
Okay. So fennel is clearly pigeon-holed. Let’s see what we can do to break out a bit. I had the term “fennel slaw” rattling around in my head, must have read it somewhere, so I looked that up. I didn’t find slaw exactly, but there are quite a few versions of salad with shredded fennel. Salads. Now they’re speaking my language. There were harvest-y things with fennel and apple and nuts and such, and there was an oft-repeated recipe that appears to have originated in Bon Appetite involving fennel, blood orange, and beets. I’m in. No blood oranges sitting around, but I have a bunch of golden beets and one red one…
…and something called a honey orange and what I’ll refer to as a normal orange…
…all of which showed up in the Box Of Wonders some time over the last few weeks. They called for red onion, which I don’t have, but I have a yellow one so we’re good. Perfect salad storm.
So, first off: cook the beets. I don’t know how you do it, or if you do it, but the easiest way I know is to cut off the tops and bottoms, drizzle olive oil on top, wrap them in tin foil, and put the in the oven at 450 for an hour. Good to go. And if you don’t want your hands to be bright red, peel them by holding them down with a fork and use a pairing knife to scrape the skin off (if the skin doesn’t pretty much just fall away, the beet isn’t cooked).
Next, shave the fennel. Some would use a mandolin here, but as I’ve noted before, and as Dad knows only too well, mandolins are frickin’ terrifying. Also I can slice things really thin myself, so, knife and cutting board it is! I’m not really sure what parts are “edible” here, but I am guessing the stalk and the heart of it get left out.
As a side note, this is an incredibly potent-smelling plant. Like, “take a sniff and step back wide-eyed while twitching your nose to get the smell out” potent.
As for the orange, most recipes call for it to be cut like this.
And it does look kind of pretty, but then you have the chewy white membrane part. Some people actually like that taste, but I don’t. So my orange looks like this. Just a little more work, and it’s all edible, all sweet, very pretty.
I also noticed that I have three and a half pecans sitting in the pantry, so those will be deployed judiciously.
They also called for a citrus vinaigrette, which I didn’t even look at, because I know vinaigrettes and I can make one with no problem. I used to be intimidated by them until about a year ago. Mom, Dad, remember when you were visiting me out west and we went to Sue and Dan’s for dinner a few nights? One night Sue made three different vinaigrettes for various dishes while we sat at the counter chatting. I was impressed to say the least, but she told me the secret of vinaigrettes, which is that they are really just oil and vinegar with whatever else you want it to taste like thrown in. Game-changer. Thanks Sue, for demystifying dressings!
So I needed a citrus vinaigrette, which I improv’d thus: Squeezed all the juice from the normal orange, and a lemon, added a good bit of olive oil, a few dashes of red wine vinegar, teaspoon of sugar, pinch of salt and pepper and we’re all set.
Tried it, loved it, couldn’t be more shocked. Fennel (well, this fennel anyway) has a much milder taste than it does a smell. And it worked with the citrus. It was good.
Then when I actually sat down to eat it at dinner, Shae gave me some goat cheese she had sitting around the fridge, which took a previously tasty dish and made it splendiferously delicious. This one goes in the win column! Even though fennel apparently grows best in cooler months, this is a lovely, fresh, summery dish that I will absolutely force on multiple guests!