There is something about fennel that you may not have known. It’s part of a group of vegetables called “diskènes” which can be consumed as a spice, an herb, and a vegetable. If you love fennel, you instinctively know that, but who knew it was an actual category? And it’s a pretty big one at that, which includes carrots, celery, parsnips, angelica, cumin…and more.
NEED SOME STRENGTH?
There is another thing about this amazing vegetable that may surprise you. Let’s say you need strength to, say, enter the ring and fight the lions (or ride an airplane or metro, go to a half-price sale, or cross town on your bicycle), chew on some fennel first. You may not win the match – though let us hope you do – but you will show great physical strength and brightness of mind. And if you want to keep witches at bay, hang fennel near your chimney.
SWEET AND SALTY
The above is just part of why fennel is special. It’s also wonderful because of its sweet/salty anise flavor that is as intriguing as it is delicious. And it has a long season, so you can enjoy it through the summer and into the winter.
TWO MAJOR VARIETIES – MORE BULB OR MORE FRONDS
There are two major varieties of fennel, Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) which produces the bulb that goes into the salad we’re offering you today, and herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) which is both wild and cultivated, and produces lots of fronds (yum), pollen (yum), and seeds (yum). If you find wild fennel, keep track of the seasons and you can harvest the pollen and the seeds to use in everything from pasta sauces to pizza toppings, soups, salads, and more.
TAKE A LOOK, SERVE THE SALAD
So, take a look at your fennel bulbs. This time of year, if they are harvested locally they will be white and creamy on the outside, fresh and without any drying or brown streaks, and they don’t need peeling. If they are slightly dry on the outside, just remove the outer layer and use that in stock or soup. Prepare them, and save the fronds.
Braised Fennel with Olives, Capers, and Garlic
- 1 large fennel bulb
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup; 60ml water
- 2 fresh or imported bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic cut into thick matchsticks
- Coarse sea salt
For the topping:
- ¾ cup black or green olives pitted
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 heaping tablespoon capers preferably packed in salt, soaked and rinsed
- Olive oil, for garnish
- Trim the fennel bulb, keeping the fronds. Slice it, lengthwise.
- Place the fennel in a medium skillet, drizzle with the olive oil, pour over the water, then lay the bay leaves on top and strew with the garlic. Season with salt.
- Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat so the water simmers, cover, and cook until the fennel is tender and turning golden, which will take about 10 minutes. Check the fennel to be sure there is enough water to braise it, and turn it once during the cooking.
- While the fennel is braising, coarsely chop the olives, garlic, and the capers. Add any fennel fronds, and incorporate them into the chop.
- When the fennel is to your liking, transfer it to a serving dish, top it with the olive mixture, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and serve.