I love fennel with its unique, aromatic taste. Its subtle hints of anise. But I’ve found there’s a whole lot more to it than that — depending on how you prepare it. Last night, I just shaved and tossed it with arugula, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and olive oil to go with some exquisite, sushi-grade tuna that I quickly grilled.
Like the ideal Italian salad, it was bright, clean and delicious.
You can bring out more flavor by grilling. My very first experience with fennel was just that. Grilled. It was served with some tasty rockfish that came off the same wood-fired grill. And the slightly crunchy slices of this ancient Mediterranean vegetable, kissed by the fire, added a wonderful and tantalizing herbal spin to the dish.
Braising is another option. It’s more time consuming, of course. But delivers even more fennel flavor. That’s what chef Mario Batali does at his noted restaurant, Babbo in NYC. He then serves his braised fennel with whole roasted Branzino. To me, its also great with grilled or pan roasted swordfish. Or almost any kind of fish, for that matter.
Braised Fennel. A recipe with a nod to the Babbo kitchen.
Here’s what you’ll need:
2 Fennel bulbs, cut into 1/4″ slices
Chopped fennel fronds
Dry white wine
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 450. Then arrange the fennel slices in a single layer in a large oven proof pan. Pour in enough white wine to cover, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Transfer to the oven to braise uncovered until tender. About 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Next, in a 14-inch saute pan, heat 3 TBS olive oil until smoking. Add the fennel slices, sprinkle with 1 TBS sugar, turning often, until light golden brown. About 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and that’s it. You’ve got wonderfully aromatic braised fennel to accompany some fish. Use the chopped fronds to dress the plate.
And to spice up dinner conversation when you serve it, here are some curious and fun facts about fennel. For openers, it was used back in ancient Greece. Not only that, it was closely associated with Dionysus. You know, the infamous god of food, wine and frolic. The ancients called fennel “marathon.” Because it filled the fields where that iconic battle was fought. In fact, Greeks still call it “marathon” today.