Friday, July 4, 2014

Featured Vegetable July 3-5: Fennel

Fennel is a unique vegetable, unlike any other we grow. It is in the same family as carrots, dill, and parsley which are characterized by their feathery tops and round, flattened flower heads called umbels. Fennel is distinguished by its licorice or anise-like flavor and aroma. For those of you who like the flavor of licorice, this could quickly become one of your favorite vegetables. If you are not a fan of licorice and would rather put your fennel in the swap box, I’d encourage you to read on and consider giving it a try.
Fennel in the field at Harmony Valley Farm.
Fennel is a crisp, sweet-scented vegetable. The entire plant is usable, starting with the bulb at the base of the plant which is the portion that is most often eaten. The stems extending from the bulb can be used to flavor soups, stocks, etc, but are often too fibrous to eat. The feathery tops are called fronds. They have a mild, fresh fennel flavor and are used more as a seasoning or herb. They can be chopped finely and added to salads, used to garnish soups, or blend them into fruit or vegetable drinks or smoothies. You can also stir the chopped fronds into yogurt or sour cream along with scallions, cucumbers or other herbs and use it as a sauce or dip for vegetables, bread, fish or poultry. If the plant is left to form a flower, the pollen from the flower can be collected and used as a seasoning.

Fennel is common in Mediterranean cuisine including Italian and Greek cooking. It can be eaten raw, braised, grilled, boiled, roasted or sautéed. It is often used in gratins, cream soups, seafood dishes, simple salads and antipasto platters. Fennel pairs well with many foods including: lemons, oranges, apples, honey, white wine, olives, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, fish, seafood, pork, cured meats, beans, cream, Parmesan cheese and blue cheese.

Fennel contains a volatile oil called anethole which is responsible for its licorice flavor and aroma. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and aids in digestion. The flavor of fennel is strongest when eaten raw. When sautéed or cooked, the oils volatilize which lessens the intensity of the flavor and the sugars in the vegetable start to caramelize. Thus, cooking mellows and sweetens the flavor while the color changes from bright white to a golden hue. When eating fennel raw, I recommend thinly slicing or shaving the bulb. Cutting it in this way makes it tender and delicate, as opposed to overwhelming. One of my favorite ways to enjoy fennel is to dress thinly sliced fennel with a simple honey-lemon vinaigrette. So simple, yet very delicious. Store your fennel wrapped loosely in plastic in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy

This salad pairs very well with seared salmon or any other fish. For another variation, consider adding a can of tuna and/or chopped olives to the salad.
White Bean & Fennel Salad with Seared Salmon

Serves 4

1  cup dried cannellini, navy or other dried white beans, soaked overnight in water to cover
2-3 scallions, bulb and green tops
2  small or 1 medium fennel bulbs, with fronds
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.   Pour the soaking water off the beans and put the beans in a pot. Add fresh water to  cover by a few inches, bring to a boil and boil hard for 10 minutes. Lower the heat,  cover and cook gently until the beans are tender but still hold their shape.

2.   While the beans are cooking, prepare the remaining components of the salad.   Thinly slice the scallions. Trim off the stalk and fronds from the fennel bulb. Finely  chop 3 Tbsp of fronds and set them aside. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters and  remove the core. Slice the fennel very thinly and set aside.

3.  Whisk 2 Tbsp of the lemon juice with the lemon zest, vinegar, oil, and ½ tsp salt.

4.   When the beans are done, drain them, pour them into a shallow bowl and let them  cool for 5-10 minutes. Toss them with the lemon vinaigrette, fennel seeds, and  sliced fennel. Season well with salt & pepper. Gently stir in the scallions and fennel  fronds. Adjust the seasoning to your like with salt and black pepper.

5.  Serve the salad at room temperature or just slightly warm. 
by Andrea Yoder
Yield:  3 servings

½ cup honey
2 ½ cups water
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup fennel fronds, tightly packed

1.   Combine honey, water and ginger in a small pot. Bring the water to a simmer  over medium heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Stir to make sure the honey 
is fully dissolved. Remove the pot from heat and set aside to cool to room  temperature.

2.   Carefully pour the honey and ginger mixture into a blender.  Add the lemon  juice and fennel fronds.  Blend on high speed until the mixture is smooth and  bright green.

3.   Serve over ice.  Garnish with a stem of fennel fronds or lemon slices
This recipe was inspired by Deborah Madison’s recipe for Carrot Almond Cake with Ricotta Cream that was published in her book Vegetable Literacy.

Makes One 9-inch cake

4 Tbsp butter plus more to grease the pan
1 ½ cups almonds
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
⅔ cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups unbleached cake flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 large eggs
¼ tsp vanilla
1 cup fennel, chopped finely
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Whipped cream, to garnish
4-5 cups fresh fruit (Blueberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, etc)
Juice of 2 oranges

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Melt the 4 Tbsp butter and set it aside to cool.
Use a small amount of butter to grease the sides and bottom of a 9-inch
cake pan. Dust the sides of the pan with flour.

2. Pulse the almonds with the orange zest and 2 Tbsp of the granulated
sugar in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground. Sift
together the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and the remaining 2/3
cup sugar on high speed until pale, foamy, and thick, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the speed to low and add the ground almond mixture, the
vanilla, and finally the flour mixture, incorporating it just until well
mixed. Pour the cooled butter over the batter and then quickly fold it in,
followed by the fennel.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and put the
cake in the center of the oven. Lower the heat to 350°F and bake the
cake until it is springy to the touch in the center, lightly browned, and
beginning to pull away from the pan sides, 40-45 minutes. Let cool
completely in the pan, then run a knife around the edge to fully release
the cake. Place a plate on top of the pan and invert the pan to remove
the cake onto the platter.

5. Just before serving, dust the cake with the confectioners’ sugar. Mix the
fruit of your choosing with the juice of 2 oranges.
6. Serve each slice of the cake with a spoonful of whipped cream on top
and garnish with a mix of fresh summer fruit.

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