Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
What an awesome vegetable. Where has it been all my life.
Orion F1 hybrid fennel was seeded directly into the area of the vegetable garden I want to make into an herb garden. The asparagus bed is in that area. Parsley, dill, rosemary, and sage are growing there now. This area should be for perennial plants. Not in crop rotation, in other words. I don’t have a record of exactly when the fennel was planted. Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog says 80 days to full size for fennel. So, maybe the middle of June. Sounds about right. Need to keep better records.
Fennel tastes like anise or licorice and has the crunchy texture of celery. Mostly the bulb, which is not the root, is eaten, but one online source recommended keeping the stalks for vegetable stock or soups. Sounds like a good idea. Just use it like carrots or celery. The leafy fronds are an excellent garnish.
I planted fennel seeds and got 4 plants. Next year, I want many, many more. They are a little other-worldly. This one, the biggest of the 4, seems almost like a fish. Why do I think that.
Well, because it has the shape of a fish, for one thing, and is firm yet pliant like a super-fresh fish.
I made a tomato fennel gratin with this particular fennel. The recipe calls for steaming the fennel, but I chose to sauté it in olive oil, for maybe 10 minutes.
Here’s the magic part. The recipe next calls for crème fraiche and black olive tapenade. We just recently discovered crème fraiche at Trader Joe’s, so, I thought, surely Trader Joe’s has black olive tapenade too. And I was right. Of course, I could figure out how to make these things from scratch, but until I do. . . .
So, combine the sautéd fennel, crème fraiche, black olive tapenade, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh thyme, sea salt, and pepper. Spread this mixture out in the bottom of a small casserole. Top with freshly sliced really ripe tomatoes and more Parmesan, fresh thyme, sea salt, and pepper.
Bake at 350°F. for 30 minutes and prepare to be blown away by how good it is. Few recipes have pleased me as much as this one has. I must plant more fennel next year. Absolutely.