One of the things we had in the Fall Italian Garden was bulbing fennel, which you may sometimes see in the grocery store labeled “Anise.”
This is the fennel that was harvested before the cold weather set in a couple weeks ago. Most of it was pretty good sized. As a recap, we started the seeds indoors and then transplanted in early August. It is edible at any size of bulb development, and I know that sometimes people like the smaller ones to roast whole. The bulbs were good sized a few weeks before we harvested, but I always like to see how big we can grow things in the fall and how long they will last in the garden.
So…what do you do with bulb fennel? I had tried a fennel gratin recipe several years ago that was pretty disgusting, so I went looking for some better options. I ended up with a recipe for Roasted Fennel, Carrots, & Shallots and another recipe for a Radicchio, Fennel, and Olive Panzanella (bread salad). It was a bonus, since we had radicchio in the garden too!
I sliced the carrots, and topped the red bunching onions. The original recipe called for shallots, but I had a whole bunch of these red bunching onions from the garden as well that were pretty sweet, so I opted to use them instead. These were also tossed with oil, salt, and pepper, then spread on a baking sheet.
Everything was roasted at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until tender.
The finished product! (Technically the recipe called for garnishing with parsley and a few fronds from the fennel tops. Oh well.) This dish was a huge hit, even though it was so simple. Sometimes the simple dishes are the best. Almost everyone really enjoyed the flavor of the roasted fennel.
The second recipe was actually a bit more complex, even though it was a salad. I also didn’t manage to get pictures of every step, so bear with me. Here’s a link to the original recipe: Radicchio, Fennel, and Olive Panzanella.
The first step was to toast the bread. The cubes of bread were tossed with lemon zest, oil, salt, and pepper. Then they were toasted in the oven until just crisp. (Not all the way to crouton stage.)
The dressing was pretty simple: minced shallot (I subbed the red onion again), chopped parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper, all whisked together.
The fennel was easy to deal with. I just took a couple of the smaller bulbs and thinly sliced them. Done!
Then the radicchio…
Eew! When I harvested it, the outer leaves looked good, but as I peeled it down to the inner head, I got to this slimy layer. I don’t know if this is normal, if the plants were too crowded, if it was too warm and wet for most of the fall, or what the story was. I’m sure that many of you, getting to this point, would have just chucked the whole thing in the trash and moved on. Luckily you have me to delve through the slime to find out if there was anything good underneath!
What do you know! There was something worth having! One of the heads that I stripped down still had some good green leaves before getting to the red interior leaves. The others needed to be cleaned further, down to the red leaves. But the radicchio “hearts” were just fine to use. No sliminess in evidence at all.
The final salad: the bread, radicchio, and fennel were tossed, as well as some halved green olives, chopped parsley, a little cheese, some salami and the dressing. It was a colorful and interesting salad. Because the greens were all radicchio, it had a stronger, more bitter flavor than our American palates are used to. Some people really liked it and others didn’t care for it. To make it appeal to a broader audience, I added some sweet lettuces (like bibb lettuce) to cut the bitter greens a bit. The fennel really wasn’t very prominent in this dish by the time everything else was added, but it was a great use for radicchio!