Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Fennel

By Andrea Yoder

     You’ll be able to identify fennel from other vegetables in your box this week by its unique appearance and distinct aroma.  Most of the fennel plant is edible, however the white bulb at the base of the plant is the most commonly used part. The soft, fine, feathery green portion extending off the stalks is called “fronds.”The fronds are also edible and can be used more as an herb, seasoning or garnish to add a bit of flavor to soups, salads, etc. The stalks are sometimes too fibrous to eat, however they have a lot of flavor and can be used to make vegetable stock or a soothing tea.   
     Fennel has the flavor of anise, or mild licorice, which some people love and others are still learning to like. The bulb is crisp, sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw, I feel strongly that fennel should be cut very thinly. It helps to soften the fennel a little bit and makes for a more pleasant eating experience. If you are in the group of people who just really don’t care for the flavor of licorice, you may find fennel more enjoyable if you cook it. When sautéed, roasted or otherwise cooked, the oils in fennel that give it the distinct flavor volatilize which lessens the intensity of the flavor and develops the natural sugars. Caramelized fennel is featured in this week’s newsletter recipes and is a great way to incorporate fennel in your diet in more subtle ways.
     Fennel may be used in gratins, cream soups, seafood dishes, simple salads and antipasto platters.  It pairs well with a whole host of other foods including lemons, oranges, apples, honey, white wine, olives, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, fish, seafood, pork, cured meats, beans, cream, Parmesan cheese, feta cheese, cucumbers, dill and parsley. 
     Fennel is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C & A. The volatile oil I mentioned earlier, anethole, has been shown to reduce inflammation and help prevent some cancers.  It is also aids with digestion and freshens breath.
     Fennel should be stored in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in plastic.When you are ready to use it, you may need to peel off the outer layer of the bulb to wash away dirt that may be between the outermost layers. The outer layer is still usable after it is washed.  Cut the bulb in half and make a V-shaped cut into the core at the base of the fennel bulb.  Remove most of the core, then slice thinly or cut as desired.

   Caramelized Fennel & Beet Pizza
By Andrea Yoder

Yield:  3-4 servings

Pizza dough, homemade or premade, enough for a 12” pizza
2 tsp olive oil
1-2 fennel, bulbs with stalks and fronds intact
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
½ cup white wine
1 ½ tsp honey
1 egg
1 Tbsp heavy cream
7 oz fresh goat cheese
1 bunch beets
4 slices bacon, cooked and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 ½ Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp honey
2 ½ Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Black pepper, to taste.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. 
  2. Prepare fennel by removing the outer portion of the bulb if necessary. Cut off the stalks just above the bulb. Cut the bulb into quarters and, using a V-cut, remove the core from each quarter of the bulb. Thinly slice the bulb and the lower portion of the stalk up to the point where the fronds start to form. You will need a total of 2 cups of sliced fennel. Set aside remaining stalks and fronds for later use.
  3. Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add sliced fennel and garlic and saute over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the fennel has softened. Stir fennel periodically as it cooks. Once the fennel is softened, add ½ tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, white wine and honey. Bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer until all the liquid has evaporated, then remove from heat and cool slightly.
  4. Form the pizza dough into a 12” round. Lay it out on a pizza pan or baking stone. Parbake the crust for about 5-6 minutes in a preheated oven. Remove crust from the oven and set aside until you are ready to assemble the pizza. 
  5. Next, beat the egg in a medium bowl until it is pale yellow and frothy. Add the heavy cream and continue to beat until the cream and the egg are well-combined. Finally, add the fresh goat cheese and beat on high speed until the mixture is smooth. 
  6. Separate fennel fronds from the remaining stems and finely chop them. You will need 2 Tbsp plus ½ cup of finely chopped fronds. Fold 2 Tbsp of fronds into the goat cheese mixture. Set the mixture aside.
  7. Cut the beets off the stems. Scrub the exterior of the beet roots with a vegetable brush.  Depending upon the size of the beets, you will need 1-2 medium beets. Set the remaining beets aside for another use. Wash the beet greens carefully, pat or spin dry and set the greens aside.
  8. Very thinly slice the beets using either a knife or a mandolin. 
  9. Assemble the pizza. Spread the goat cheese mixture on the parbaked pizza crust. Spread the chopped bacon over the goat cheese layer. Lay the thinly sliced beets on top of the bacon.The beets will shrink a little bit during cooking, so place the slices of beets very close together and try to cover the majority of the pizza surface. 
  10. Next, spread caramelized fennel evenly on top of the beets. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the entire pizza. Put the pizza in the preheated oven and bake for 15-17 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  11. While the pizza is baking, thinly slice the beet greens and stems. You should have about 2 cups of greens.  Put the beet greens and stems in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
  12. In a small mixing bowl, combine lemon juice, zest, honey and olive oil.Whisk together to make a vinaigrette. Season with salt and black pepper.
  13. Once the pizza is fully baked, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. Just before serving, drizzle a little bit of the vinaigrette over the beet greens.  Use just enough to lightly coat all of the greens. Save the remainder for another use. Serve the pizza with lightly dressed beet greens spread on top. 

Caramelized Fennel on Herbed Polenta
Serves 2

2 to 3 cups vegetable broth, as needed
½ cup polenta
Fine sea salt, to taste
1 large fennel bulb
Ghee or coconut oil
2 Tbsp raw fennel seeds
1 to 2 Tbsp maple syrup, to taste
¼ cup chopped mixed herbs, such as parsley, dill, and chives
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)
Olive oil

  1. Heat the vegetable broth in a large saucepan until simmering. Slowly pour in the polenta in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent clumping. Add a few pinches of salt. Stir constantly for a couple minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring every 5 minutes or so for 30 – 45 minutes. If the polenta becomes too thick, add more broth or hot water and whisk until smooth. The polenta is cooked when you rub a small amount of it between your fingers and it is no longer gritty, but instead creamy and smooth.
  2. While the polenta is cooking, cut the fennel bulb into thin vertical slices (from the top to the base).
  3. Heat the ghee or coconut oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the fennel slices to the skillet, making sure that they all come into contact with the surface of the skillet (not overlapping-you may have to work with a few slices at a time). Sprinkle with sea salt. Do not stir or move the fennel until it is golden on the bottom, about 5 to 7 minutes. When all the pieces have browned, flip them onto the uncooked side. When the underside has also browned, add a sprinkling of fennel seeds and a ½ Tbsp of the maple syrup, and let cook for 1 minute. Toss to coat, transfer fennel to a plate, and repeat until all the fennel is cooked. Season with salt if desired.
  4. Add the chopped herbs and grated cheese to the polenta, and give it a final stir. Whisk in a little more broth or water to thin it if necessary.
  5. To serve, scoop a portion of polenta onto a plate, then arrange the caramelized fennel on top. Add a drizzle of olive oil.

Recipe borrowed from Sarah Britton’s book, My New Roots.

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