Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Winter Favorite...Fennel

Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables.  If you're not used to cooking with fennel, you might want to give it a try.  I add it to soups, shave it raw into salads and love to saute it.  It makes a spectacular base layer to serve underneath a piece of sauteed fish or chicken... or actually any protein for that matter.

Fennel tastes ever so slightly of licorice but in a very mild, warm and buttery sort of way.  I love to saute it in butter and chicken broth to bring out that buttery yummy flavor.  Fennel is used in a lot of French and Italian recipes and you can also go that way with it, using olive oil, wine and dried Italian or Provencal herbs.

Cooking Tip:  I always keep good ready-made mixtures of both Italian and Provencal herb combinations in my spice cupboard and I find that I grab them a lot.  It's much faster to open up one bottle of dried herbs than six different ones.   

Fennel is a bulb that is traditionally planted in autumn and harvested in winter or spring.  However, it is sometimes planted in spring or summer for harvest in autumn which is why you will find good fresh fennel bulbs in the stores right now.  The bulb, stalks, leaves and seeds are all edible, but the bulb and seeds are the most commonly eaten.

Fennel seeds are used as a spice.  The licorice flavor in fennel seeds is much more intense than in fresh fennel bulbs.  Fennel seeds seem to help in digestion and have been historically used for weight-loss.  

Fennel loves a dry mediterranean climate.  In fact, I used to live in Southern California where I had a wild clump of it growing in my hillside backyard where it survived for many years.  Who knows how it got there.  I would often see fennel growing wild in Southern California and I still see it growing wild like that in the mild coastal areas in Northern California.

As far as healing, fennel has lots of vitamins and minerals but it also has several phytonutrients that give it anti-oxidant properties and immune support.  It is very anti-inflammatory and helps reduce the risk of cancer.  High in fiber, fennel is excellent for colon protection.  (See blue box below for more healing properties of fennel.)

In this recipe, I added bacon and chicken broth to fennel bulbs.  The autumn, warming heartiness of this dish is very satisfying, especially for the cold snowy weather we're having here this week in Lake Tahoe.  If you're having winter weather, too, you might want to try this delicious winter dish.

Fennel with Bacon

3 strips of bacon (use hormone, antibiotic and nitrate free bacon)
2 fennel bulbs sliced
1/2 c chicken broth organic
1 c water
1/2 t Italian herb mix
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Cut the bacon strips into 1" pieces and put them into a frying pan to gently fry until golden.  Remove the bacon pieces, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.  Set the bacon pieces on a sheet of  paper towel to drain. Add the fennel to the bacon fat in the pan along with the broth, water and herbs and cook, letting the water simmer until the liquid is mostly evaporated.  At this point, the fennel should be softened.  Season with generous healthy sea salt (see blue box below) and black pepper to taste.  Stir in the bacon and serve.

A delicious winter salad with thinly sliced fennel bulbs, fresh tangerines and local artisan cheese on seasonal salad greens from the farmer's market.  

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