Thursday, March 3, 2011

Florence Fennel

I just recently learned what fennel was when Andrew cooked a monkfish at hour home and used some in his recipe. 
Florence fennel is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean but has spread to many parts of the world. It has a taste and aroma similar to anise and star anise and is often mislabeled "anise" in the supermarket, as was mine when I purchased it at Albertson's. 
It is not a vegetable I am aware of ever being used as an ingredient in cooking I have been around. 
I became intrigued by it when I saw it listed as one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. Both the stalk and the bulb have the flavor of mild black-licorice and is eaten both raw and cooked. 
According to 1001 the leaves, which look kind of like dill, are used as an herb and added to the barbecue while grilling oily fish. In "fashionable restaurants, slender, tender 'micro' fennel is served, simply split, boiled, and brushed with oil or butter." 
It has a look and texture much like celery and when I eat it raw, all I can think is "licorice." I boiled some until it was soft and I also cut some, put on olive oil and sprinkled it with salt and pepper and baked it in an oven. 
I pulled some out midway through the baking process and left the majority of it in the oven until it was baked quite thoroughly. The boiled fennel had a texture like boiled celery and it still retained its highly licorice taste. I found that I really liked the baked fennel, particularly those pieces that had baked in the oven a long time. 
In that fennel, the licorice taste was converted into a much deeper flavor that was more like rich gravy stock. I absolutely loved it and my mouth starts watering just thinking about it. I think baked or roasted fennel would be a very unusual and fun dish to serve with a company meal. I will definitely be cooking it in that manner again.  

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