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Fear fennel no more. Here’s how its subtle sweetness can win you

Debbie Arrington, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Entertaining

“I love everything about fennel!” said Elise Bauer, creator of the popular food blog and website SimplyRecipes.com. “Braised, roasted, or raw in salads. It’s especially good paired with fish, either in a side slaw or cooked with the fish. It’s also exceptional with Parmesan, either in a shaved fennel and Parmesan salad or baked in a gratin with a Parmesan topping.”

The whole fennel plant is edible, from its the bulbous base to its feathery leaves. Fennel seed may be among the most Italian of spices.

“Fennel seed is the seasoning that makes Italian sausage taste like Italian sausage,” Bauer said. “So, if you want ground pork to taste like Italian sausage, just add some fennel seeds to it.”

Fennel pairs particularly well with other strong-flavored ingredients such as fish, citrus and cheese.

“One of my favorites is fennel gratin with tomato,” Brennan said. “Thin slices of fennel – cut lengthwise – gently sauteed in olive oil with garlic and seasonings, then layered in a baking dish, topped with fresh tomato sauce, then sprinkled with a gremolata (finely chopped lemon zest, parsley and garlic) and baked.”

Brennan also recommended another gratin: “This one with the fennel bulbs quartered lengthwise, par boiled, then tightly packed into a baking dish and slathered with a bechamel sauce, and topped with grated Gruyere and baked.”

 

With the raw bulb, she makes a salad of fennel, fig and fresh goat cheese. The fennel is shaved paper-thin with a mandoline slicer.

Fennel salads often incorporate fruit to play off fennel’s natural sweetness. But why stop there?

Like rhubarb, fennel also makes it into desserts such as blackberry-fennel cobbler or pear-fennel crisp. The seed also spices up desserts in uncommon ways. For example, Bauer suggested adding ground fennel seed to pie crust for an apricot-cherry galette. To these desserts, fennel adds a subtle touch of its licorice scent and flavor, too.

It’s enough to overcome any fear of fennel – even for non-licorice lovers.

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