Did you know you could caramelize a fennel bulb with onions and have it turn out to be one of the most amazing dishes you’ve ever tasted? I didn’t know cooking fennel slowly with onions would magically transform the white bulb from ordinary to extraordinary.
An unexpected find
We were at the farmer’s market going up and down the aisles when I spotted an overflowing bin of fresh fennel bulbs.
I turned to Honey and said, “Look at those bulbs, can you imagine how one of those delicious babies would taste in our orange salad? Let’s buy one!”
“You sure, Babe? Look at this cart; it’s loaded with vegetables and fruit. Will you be able to use it before it spoils?”
“Absolutely!” My mind kept churning out potential recipes. “Instead, I might use it in a quinoa salad.” I’m so excited, fresh vegetables and fruit do that to me. 🙂
How you select fennel bulbs:
- bulbs are clean, firm, solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting.
- bulbs are whitish or pale green in color.
- stalks are fairly straight and close around the bulbs.
- both the stalks and leaves are green in color.
- there are no signs of flowering buds, flowering means they’re past maturity.
- they have a fragrant aroma, smelling subtly of licorice or anise.
How to store fennel
As soon as we get back to the house, I put the bulb we selected into the refrigerator crisper. It will stay fresh for about four days.
The factors that affect the fennel’s freshness and nutrient composition:
- the length of time in storage.
My prize is in the fridge and I can’t wait to use it.
Six days later
It’s mid-afternoon and we’re planning our dinner. Honey is getting the chicken thighs ready for the grill when he asks, “Whatever happened to the fennel?”
“Uhhhhhh . . . I’m making it tonight.” I hurry to the fridge and dig the fennel out of the vegetable drawer. It doesn’t look quite as “fresh” as it did six days ago. Nevertheless, I’m determined to prepare the vegetable.
I stare at the bulb for a minute, hoping it’ll tell me what it wants to become. Normally I roast fennel with meat or use it in salads. How do you make it?
I remember seeing a recipe once in one of my cookbooks for cooked fennel but I don’t remember which one. Hopefully, Mr. Google can point me in the right direction.
And there it was! A recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, it’s in a cookbook I have, Plenty.
Caramelize fennel and onion — slow and easy
The original recipe has a few ingredients I don’t have, but I’m going to use his recipe as a springboard. Do you do that with original recipes? I use onions, Parmesan cheese, fresh lemon and Italian parsley along with the bulb.
Now, all it takes is a little bit of time to get that wonderful caramelization of the veggies. Believe me, the time it takes to make this dish is well worth the minutes.
Let us know how you like it.
Tutti a tavola è pronto!
Un caro saluto e alla prossima.
Caramelized Fennel and Onions – A Slow, Easy Mediterranean Side
- 1 large fennel bulb sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
- 1 large onion cut in 1/4 inch thick slices (halved then sliced lengthwise from root to tip)
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- Kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Basil leaves rolled and sliced for top optional
- Heat olive oil and butter in a large, uncovered, heavy pan on medium high heat. Add the sliced fennel and onions and stir to coat. Stir occasionally, after 10 minutes sprinkle the vegetables with salt. Lower the temperature to medium. You want the pan hot enough to get the caramelization going but not so much that the fennel and onions dry out. If that does happen, add a tablespoon or two of water.
- Stir occasionally, scraping up any bits that are on the bottom. The brown bits are the ones with the most flavor. Cook for another 30 minutes or up to an hour, depending on how impatient you are. The longer it cooks the more caramelized the onions and fennel become. Taste test along the way. The dish will have a lot of flavor and doesn't have to be cooked down all the way.
- When ready to serve, remove the pan from the heat, add in the grated Parmesan cheese, the chopped parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
- Sprinkle with slivered basil leaves, if desired.
- This is excellent served with chicken, seafood, or on crostini. I can't think of anything that I wouldn't serve with it.
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