With the weather promising cold and rain today, last night I made a run down to my garden to see what might be primed for picking. While rummaging through an overgrown patch of swiss chard, there I found this amazing bulb of fennel. By amazing I mean nearly the size of my head.
Fennel is a wonderful, aromatic plant that is a member of the carrot family. In ancient times it was revered by the Greeks and Romans both for its culinary as well as medicinal properties. All parts of fennel are edible, the fronds are also lovely and you can even freeze it if you don’t mind the loss of texture. Young fennel bulbs are tender and delicious raw in salads and pair wonderfully with many Italian dishes. But I had no idea what to do with this giant bulb. It’s roots were so impressive that it took two hands and a lot of strength for me to pull it out – fennel is actually a perennial so it grows to survive and thrive no matter what the weather. I could not imagine eating this giant raw. After spending some time googling around ideas, I finally came up with my own inspiration: fennel simmered until tender with olive oil, garlic and sweet red onions, then finished with fresh picked cherry tomatoes and swiss chard. Served over pasta and topped with fresh parmesan….wonderful! Here are the top things I learned in this process.
- Cleaning fennel takes some attention. Dirt gets into all of the crevices of the bulb. To get the grit out, I found that washing the bulb, slicing it thin, and then running the slices through my salad spinner worked great to get it all clean. Remember to remove the core!
- Fennel and swiss chard are an AMAZING combination. The sweet, aromatic anise flavor of the fennel pairs wonderfully with the bitter greens of the swiss chard.
- While any fresh tomato may do, I used whole cherry tomatoes. The effect was lovely. Intense tomato flavor, a little “pop”. My personal favorite for this recipe are my home-grown organic gardener’s sweetheart tomatoes (thank you Fruition Seeds!).
- You don’t need a recipe. Just put it together any way and in any combination that works for you. My main advice is to layer the flavors and the cooking, starting with meat (Italian sausage or diced pancetta work great in this recipe) and longer cooking aromatics first (the fennel, onion, and garlic) and layering in the other ingredients based on their cooking time, with tender greens like swiss chard at the very end.
- This tastes amazing over your favorite pasta, rice, or grains!
To find sources of swiss chard, tomatoes, and fennel near you, check out our on-line directory. Enjoy a cool rainy day of locavore cooking and eating!