IOTM February: Fennel

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IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Jenise » Mon Feb 12, 2007 3:55 pm

Derived from the latin word for "fragrant hay", foeniculum, the name fennel is evocative of both the plant's licorice-y flavor and its tendency to propagate easily from seed which no doubt accounts for its appearance on roadsides the world over. I have personally seen them sprouting in Southern California, Australia, and most recently right down the road from where I now live, where a large thatch grows even though we're often below the reported life zone of 4 to 27 degrees centigrade. Perhaps the rather continous parade of canine passersby keeps the plant a bit warmer?

Native to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, fennel belongs to the umbellifereae family and is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander (cilantro). Per Wikipedia, in Ancient Greece fennel was called 'marathon', and hence the Grecian place name Marathon which was the site of the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Students of mythology might remember that Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the gods.

North American grocers often label it as 'anise', but this is erroneous. They are not the same, nor interchangeable though anise too has a licorice flavor. As a fresh vegetable, it is typically at its best from autumn to early spring. The feathery yellow flowers produce the "fruit" known as fennel seed, which provide not only a valued seasoning for cooks like us, but are also a source of oil and oleoresin for use in soaps, perfumes and liqueurs.

Nutritionally, 1 cup of raw fennel contains just 26 calories and yet can satisfy about 17% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C. It will also satisfy about 10% of your daily requirement for dietary fiber, potassium and manganese.

Medicinally, Chinese herbal medicine includes the use of fennel for gastroenteritis, hernia, indigestion, abdominal pain and to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding mothers. It gets its primary flavor from anethole (as do anise and star anise), which is used pharmacologically as an antispasmodic treatment. Of mild interest to wine lovers (after all, that's why we're all here, isn't it?) the oil has also been reported to stiumulate liver regeneration in rats.

Fennel is one of the three main herbs used in the making of Absinthe, an alcoholic mixture believed in the 1800s to have extra potent psychoactive properties which led to it's being banned in most parts of the world by the 1940's. (In recent times those laws have generally been relaxed, though after tasting my first Absinthe at my friend Mary Michelutti's house just two weeks ago, I am loathe to explain why. :wink: )

In modern times, fennel and its seed are staples in many cultures. Items as diverse as Chinese five spice powder, Italian sausage, and Bengali curry all rely heavily on the seed. The bulb can be used in a multitude of ways whether raw, lightly cooked, roasted or braised.

Fortunately, restaurant chefs love to use fennel and my three favorite fennel preps were first experienced that way. At a little cafe in Half Moon Bay, California, I discovered that raw fennel, slivered cooked green beans, kalamata olives and a few leaves of arugula belong together in salad. That was my first encounter with raw fennel, and it was love at first bite. Not far from there at Oliveto restaurant in Oakland, I had a pasta dish sauced with a ragu of smoked pork and fennel that gave me an ongoing reason to freeze the stalks I used to trim off and throw away--to this day, I've not had a more unique red sauce for pasta, and I make my own copycat version of it frequently. And last year, at Christina's on Orcas Island here in the San Juan Islands, a fennel risotto served under a chicken breast filet made fennel risotto a staple here at Chez Jenise (most often with mild grilled fish) since--I can't get enough of it.

As always, IOTM is a way of generating friendly discussion about the way in which we use an ingredient. It is also hoped that everyone who reads this post will be inspired to seek out a new recipe involving fennel. Those who do, please report back.

What are your favorite uses for fennel?
Last edited by Jenise on Sun Mar 04, 2007 3:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Carl Eppig » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:06 pm

Great subject. Have posted recipe for Italian sausage. We use bulbs in stews and soups. Also like to sprinkle ground fennel on burgers. Try it, you'll like it.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Gary Barlettano » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:17 pm

Jenise wrote:What are your favorite uses for fennel?


-- As a tea to combat gas.
-- Raw as a munchie.
-- Inside sausage.
-- In poultry stuffing.
-- German-style as a side chopped up in a roux (or at least we ate
it Germany that way).
-- Stuffed with whatever and baked.

Yummy and versatile!!!
And now what?
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Christina Georgina » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:54 pm

I can't throw the stalks away either....so they appear 1. chopped in my poultry brine along with garlic, thinly sliced lemons and bay leaves. 2. as a "rack" in the roasting pan along with leeks and carrots under the chicken while roasting; 3.chopped fennel stalks, onions sweated in butter as a base for ceci [garbanzo/shick pea] soup - again with chicken stock. I use the stalks every chance I get in place of celery.
The bulbs-if they they survive my munchies because I love them raw- are used primarily raw for salad of various kinds-especially thinly sliced with thin curls of good Parm, superior olive oil, good freshly ground pepper. I am often disappointed that a cooked bulb seems washed out of the wonderful flavor that I have in my mind. In a soffrito, a few fennel seeds intensify the flavor and make a good base for stuffing for mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers. I've never been happy with roasting fennel - flavor is lost and stringyness enhanced but anxious to hear if others have had success roasting.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Jenise » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:56 pm

chopped in my poultry brine along with garlic, thinly sliced lemons and bay leaves


I am on the way to the kitchen RIGHT NOW to amend the brine for tonight's roast chicken breasts with sour cream-mustard sauce.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Christina Georgina » Mon Feb 12, 2007 7:05 pm

How do you do your sc/mustard sauce? I would think that the mustard might overwhelm the fennel flavor.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Jenise » Mon Feb 12, 2007 7:15 pm

Christina, right in the skillet, a little white wine to deglaze then mustard and sour cream to thicken. And yes, it will most likely be stronger than the fennel, but the brining is just a few hours to moisturize the chicken along with a few aromatics, I'd only just put it in when I saw your note. Since I'd just sliced up a fennel bulb for our salad the stalk trimmings were available. Might as well use them this way as not. I won't be looking for a substantial, postable-recipe difference, especially since there's California bay leaf already in the brine, but it's another way of adding (hopefully) another layer of flavor. I cut the stalks in lengths so that more cut surfaces would add more flavor. I'll be able to tell you tomorrow whether it made a noticeable difference or not.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Bob Ross » Wed Feb 14, 2007 1:15 pm

Cream of Fennel Soup from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette.

We find this a delicious cold soup for the summer -- as the monk writes -- "it's simultaneously subtle, refreshing and striking".

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients:

1 leek, thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
5 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
8 tomatoes, peeled, seed, and chopped
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup green tops from the fennel, chopped very fine
1 cup heavy cream or low fat yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

1. Sauté the leeks in oil until tender. Add the garlic and the fennel. Stir well and cook until the fennel begins to soften.

2. Add the tomatoes and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes turn into a sauce. Add the stock. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.

3. Blend the soup in a blender, return to the soup pot, add the fennel greens, cream or yogurt, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil for one minute. Turn off the heat, stir well, cover the pot, and let the soup rest for 10 minutes before serving. Or, chill for an hour and serve cold.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Bob Ross » Wed Feb 14, 2007 2:29 pm

Seafood poached in saffron broth with fennel -- a CIA recipe.

For 10 servings, but easy to divide -- the broth will hold for three days.

Ingredients:

1 qt fish fumet
1 tsp saffron threads, crushed
Sachet d'épices
3 Stems parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1/2 tsp fresh oor dried thyme
1 clove garlic

4fl oz Pernod
4fl oz dry white wine
1 pound fennel julienne
1 pound tomato concassé

Seafood

Technique

1. Combine the fumet, saffron, sachet, Pernod, wine, fennel, and tomato concassé. Simmer until the fennel is barely tender and the broth is well flavored. [The broth and fennel can be held for up to three days.

2. At the time of service, heat the broth to a bare simmer. Add the seafood and poach it until just cooked through. Serve the fish in heated soup bowls.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Fri Feb 16, 2007 12:02 pm

Very nice!
My favorite way to use fennel is stuffed inside trout with thinly sliced onion and lemon, salt, pepper and grill. But, my most talked about use is with pork. I combine an equal amount of the seed with fresh rosemary and 2 large garlic cloves; finely chop together. Combine herbs with 1 Tbsp kosher salt and 2 tsp coarse black pepper. Add enough olive oil to make a thin paste. Rub liberally over pork tenderloin. Best if grilled over charcoals, but can be placed in a 400 degree oven and baked until internal temperature reaches 140 degree F. (approx 20-30 minutes, depending on size of pork loin). Serve the pork loin with a mustard sauce (recipe follows).

All measurements are approximate as this is a personal creation:

1/4 c butter
1/4 c brandy
2 Tbsp dijon mustard (good quality)
2 Tbsp stone ground mustard
2 Tbsp Bavarian or other strong brown mustard
2 tsp hot chili paste w/ garlic (or to taste)
1 c beef broth
1 c heavy cream (can substitute half-and-half)

In sauce pan, melt butter. When melted add brandy and ignite -- let flames die. Add mustards and chili paste stirring until mustards are mixed (will be grainey). Add beef broth and cream and let simmer until flavors are combined and warmed and the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon; about 2 minutes. Serve over sliced pork medallions. Enjoy
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Jenise » Sat Feb 17, 2007 4:00 pm

Jo Ann, welcome to the forum! It's always good to see a new face. And I see we're neighbors, kind of. :) And thank you for the recipe. The sauce for your pork dish is especially interesting, combining some classic french elements like brandy/mustard/cream with an Asian staple like chili sauce. Very intriguing. I like it!

Bob--thanks for those recipes, too. Fish and fennel seem to belong together, don't they? Almost every time I've had the combination, the result has been magical. If you remember Craig from Montreal, a recipe he posted for monkfish with pasta in a fennel cream sauce started a love affair between me and monkfish/fennel in combination. I was spending a lot of time in Holland back then where the monkfish was stellar. Here, I've given up again. The monkfish tastes fishy, and I presume that's because it just can't get to the left coast fresh enough. However, I found the cream a bit heavy for every day, and in response to a challenge to create a fish dish for red wine, I made a tomato-fennel sauce not unlike your soup and served it with Cotes du Rhone. Ooh la la, was that good--the prep has been a staple in my repertoire ever since.

I want to try that soup. Would also like to try the low fat yoghurt substitution, something I've not done. Unfortunately I couldn't find fennel when I shopped on Thursday. I'm hoping to find some in Canada today.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Sun Feb 18, 2007 4:34 am

When fennel was officially announced, my first thought involved getting it into a dessert. But my more sensible wife immediately settled on a gratin as a good first step. So tonight, I made a potato and fennel gratin from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious. Not difficult and very tasty. (I did leave the fronds out of the gratin, and it still came out very nicely.)

Potato and Fennel Gratin (from the Nov. 1999 Bon Appetit), serves 8 - 10:

2 T. butter
3 c. chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only, about 4 large)

3 medium-size fresh fennel bulbs with fronds, trimmed, cored, thinly sliced, with fronds reserved
2 lb. red potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 1/2 oz)

1 1/2 c. chicken stock or low-salt canned chicken broth
1 c. whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2 inch glass baking dish. Melt 2 T. butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 1/2 cup; set aside. Discard any remaining fennel fronds. Arrange half of the fennel slices in the prepared baking dish; sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the fennel fronds, salt, and pepper. Top with half of the sliced potatoes in a single layer. Arrange half of the leek mixture over. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with half of grated Parmesan. Repeat layering with remaining fennel slices, fennel fronds, potatoes, leek mixture, and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Bring chicken stock and whipped cream to a boil. Pour mixture over potato gratin. Bake uncovered until vegetables are very tender, liquid is almost all aborbed, and top is a deep golden brown, about 1 hour 10 minutes.

Mike

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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Sun Feb 18, 2007 5:53 pm

Well, I couldn't resist attempting to put fennel into a dessert. A quick consult with Claudia Fleming's "The Last Course" showed a candied fennel that she serves with Pernod-spiked whipped cream. My wife was already making a pear crumble, so I thought that maybe a Pernod-spiked ice cream topped with candied fennel would make a nice complement. The candied fennel is pretty easy to make. You just put thinly sliced fennel on a baking sheet and pour simple syrup over it. Cover with a layer of parchment paper and then aluminum foil. Punch holes in the foil and put the sheet into a 300° oven for an hour. Uncover and put back into the oven for 30 minutes or so, until the syrup reduces and gets very thick and sticky.

For the ice cream, I made a simple custard base and roughly followed Fleming's proportion of Pernod and vanilla extract - 3 tablespoons of Pernod and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla for about 3 1/2 cups of ice cream.

The results were interesting. The ice cream was terrific. There was just enough Pernod to add complexity and interest to the flavor but not so much as to give it an overt licorice character. The fennel was a little disappointing. It tasted more of candy than fennel, although it made a nice textural addition to the ice cream. I usually find that Claudia Fleming's recipes are fantastic, but this one didn't quite make it. It all went reasonably well with the pear-oatmeal crumble although I think it might do better with a more spice-oriented baked item.

I'd do it again, though. Particularly the ice cream.

Mike

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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby FrancescoP » Mon Feb 19, 2007 11:18 am

I jusu saw a recipe for stuffed fennel and one of a fennel gratin with gorgonzola & walnuts .... I guess I need to try them !!! :-)

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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Jenise » Mon Feb 19, 2007 3:22 pm

Francesco, there's a thought. Stuffed fennel. How would you get stuff inside it, I wonder? Dig it out with a melon baller?
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby FrancescoP » Mon Feb 19, 2007 3:40 pm

The recipe goes saying to boil them first. Half them and cut away the central part in order to make a cavity. The stuffing is based on a few things included the removed fennel. It seems easy since the fennels gets halved.

Now I need to find big ones at the market next saturday and try this recipe.

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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Larry Greenly » Mon Feb 19, 2007 4:33 pm

One of my favorite bread recipes uses ground fennel inside and a sprinkling of whole fennel on the outside. And no, it does not taste sweet or like licorice. Repeat: it does not taste sweet or like licorice. (People don't seem to believe my assertion until they taste it.)
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby MtBakerDave » Mon Feb 19, 2007 6:19 pm

A couple weeks ago I had Chicken Braciola, with proscuitto and fennel, at Beato, a new place in West Seattle. Oh my! I need to figure out how to duplicate that at home.
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Mon Feb 19, 2007 7:03 pm

MtBakerDave wrote:A couple weeks ago I had Chicken Braciola, with proscuitto and fennel, at Beato, a new place in West Seattle. Oh my! I need to figure out how to duplicate that at home.
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Was the fennel and prosciutto rolled up in the chicken, Dave? My grandmother used to make braciole a lot, but always with beef. This sounds pretty interesting.


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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby MtBakerDave » Mon Feb 19, 2007 7:21 pm

I'm not Italian, so I bring no preconceptions to the dish. I have no idea whether it's traditional or not. It came across to me basically as proscuitto and fennel-stuffed chicken. I thought the fennel complemented the chicken fantastically well.

So, what did your grandmother use with the beef?
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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Mon Feb 19, 2007 8:27 pm

To tell you the truth, I don't really remember what went into hers. They were pretty simple - rolled up beef that went into the tomato ragu that then went over the pasta. They were an alternative to meatballs, I guess. There might have been some parmigiano or bread crumbs in there, but I'll have to ask my folks if they can remember more about the dish.

A quick look into the Silver Spoon shows the term "braciole" as mostly applied to pork chops with "involtini" being used for rolled-up meat dishes. Maybe there's a regional variation in the term or possibly an Italian-American use.

Anyway, the chicken sounds great. I like the idea of using it with the fennel. If you do get around to duplicating it, I'd be very interested in hearing what you do and how it turns out.

Mike

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Re: IOTM February: Fennel

Postby MtBakerDave » Mon Feb 19, 2007 10:09 pm

Well, it could be that the restaurant was playing fast and loose with the name, but I really liked the result. I bought some chicken and fennel today, but didn't find any acceptable proscuitto. I'll be near a good deli tomorrow, so I'll stop by for some, and experiment tomorrow night.

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