Fennel is a wonderfully efficient vegetable, as the entire plant is edible — bulb base, long stalks and feathery leaves that resemble Queen Anne’s lace. Native to the Mediterranean region, it’s a key ingredient in several Greek dishes.
Anise is another name for fennel and refers to its mild, though distinct, licorice flavor, most apparent in the feathery fronds.
Like its cousin celery, fennel is a slow-growing vegetable and it’s in high season right now, thanks to the long cool spring and gentle summer temperatures. When shopping at the farmers market, look for fennel bulbs that feel heavy for their size, have tightly packed layers and are free of cracks or brown spots. The stalks should feel firm and springy, not limp. Store fennel in a plastic bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for up to four days; after that the flavor fades.
Fennel’s firm white bulb is moist and crisp, a delicious alternative to celery in chicken and tuna salads. When roasted or braised, fennel turns tender and silky and is especially good with tomatoes as a side dish.
To slice the fennel bulb, stand it on the root end and cut vertically with a sharp knife. Chop the fronds to use as parsley, fennel’s other relative. The tender stalks impart their flavor to chicken or fish when grilled alongside. The fronds make a wonderful bed for roast chicken and salmon.
This time of year, a salad of raw fennel is downright refreshing. It makes a crunchy topping for bruschetta with creamy cheese or when tossed with chicken, a fine summer meal on its own.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.”
Fennel and Lemon Salad Atop Bruschetta
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Crunchy, tangy, and refreshing, this light, bright salad makes a fine topping for a bruschetta spread with a creamy cheese. Toss in sliced chicken or roast salmon for a simple meal; pile it on sandwiches at lunch. You can make it a day ahead and hold it in a covered container in the refrigerator. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• Pinch sugar
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 medium bulbs fennel, trimmed and sliced (about 2 c.)
• 1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
• 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the bruschetta:
• 1 baguette, sliced 1/2-in. thick
• 1 to 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• About 4 oz. fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese, sliced
• Chopped fresh basil, for garnish
To make the salad: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic and sugar. Whisk in 1/4 cup oil. Place the fennel, basil, and parsley in a large bowl and toss in just enough dressing to lightly coat. (Any extra dressing may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.)
To make the bruschetta: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the baguette slices onto a baking sheet and brush with the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons oil. Toast in the oven until nicely browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove and layer the cheese onto the toasted baguette. Pile the fennel salad onto the cheese and garnish with the basil.
Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:
Fat 15 g
Sodium 260 mg
Carbohydrates 21 g
Saturated fat 3 g
Added sugars 0 g
Protein 7 g
Cholesterol 9 mg
Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ carb, ½ high-fat protein, 2 fat.