Fennel: Distinctive and Delicious

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch) -

Fennel is the licorice-flavored vegetable for people who don’t like licorice. It is also, obviously, for people who do.
Fennel can make a believer out of a licoricephobe because it is so mild. And most important, it’s easy to mix with other flavors.

Fennel is also one of those ingredients that is great hot or cold. When it is heated, it acts as an aromatic, like onions and garlic, imparting its flavor to the dish as a whole. When it is served at room temperature, as in a salad, the flavor is crisper and more contained, though still mellow.

You know how onions become sweeter and richer in flavor when you roast them for a long time? It’s the same with fennel. And when you roast onions and fennel together, along with some garlic, you get an exquisitely mellow — but magnificently flavored — sauce for pasta.

I began with a pasta dish, Penne with Roasted Fennel and Onions. Don’t forget to sprinkle it with parmesan cheese at the end. The crisp bite of salty cheese provides the perfect counterpoint to the warmth of the slow-cooked vegetables.

I also like to combine fennel with chicken and rosemary. Fennel is a natural accompaniment to Mediterranean flavors. Put olive oil, garlic, rosemary and fennel on anything and you’ve got a satisfying, flavorful meal — especially if the anything you put it on is chicken or lamb.

I cook the fennel with a lot of rosemary until it is soft and sweet. Then the chicken is sautéed (with a lot of rosemary) until it is nearly cooked. Finally, the two parts of the dish — the fennel and the chicken — are brought back together in the same pan to make a wonderful meal.

With the right seasonings, fish goes even better with fennel than chicken or lamb. The seasonings in this case are garlic, oregano, olive oil and lemon, with tomatoes and briny olives for an extra kick. Cook together with a striped bass or any other fish with relatively firm flesh and a mild taste

Finally, I’ve added raw fennel to an old favorite, chicken salad with apples. The fennel adds just a little crunch and a hint of flavor.

The real standout in this dish, which is called Apple-Fennel Chicken Salad, is the lemon. A few squeezes of lemon make the whole salad taste bright, especially when some zest is thrown in for good measure.

To be honest, I didn’t like the zest at first; I thought it made the salad too bitter. But after I refrigerated it overnight, the zest had lost its edge and brought with it only a clean, lemon flavor.

Try it on whole wheat toast. You won’t be sorry.

Penne with Roasted Fennel and Onions

Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 fennel bulbs, tall stalks and leaves discarded, bulb cut in half lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled, cut in half and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 large garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/2-pound dry penne
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine fennel, onion, garlic and oil in large roasting pan. Season with salt to taste; toss the mixture to coat the fennel and onion with the oil. Spread the mixture in an even layer in the pan. Roast on the topmost rack in the oven, stirring occasionally, until the fennel and onions are just beginning to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Be careful not to overcook; the fennel and onion will quickly go from brown to burned.
  3. While vegetables are roasting, cook penne, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender but firm, al dente, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a large preheated serving bowl. Add the roasted fennel and onion and the parsley; toss well. Serve with grated parmesan.

Per serving: 517 calories; 30 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 1 mg cholesterol; 10 g protein; 57 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 7 g fiber; 930 mg sodium; 110 mg calcium

Recipe from “Pasta Verde,” by Judith Barrett

Apple-Fennel Chicken Salad

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1/2 apple, finely chopped
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces poached, roasted or rotisserie chicken, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper

Using a fork, mix apple, fennel, shallot, chicken, mayonnaise, chives, tarragon, lemon zest and juice in a medium bowl until well combined. Season with salt, pepper and more lemon juice, if desired.

Per serving: 188 calories; 12 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 47 mg cholesterol; 15 g protein; 6 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 395 mg sodium; 33 mg calcium

Adapted from bonappetit.com