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Edible Island: Finessing Fennel By Carolyn Goodwin

If you’ve never been brave enough to tackle a fresh fennel bulb, this is the time of year to give it a try. The tender young bulbs available now at the Bainbridge Farmers’ Market from Butler Green Farms, Farmhouse Organics, Leapfrog Farm, Persephone and others are

Market Fennel
sweeter and less fibrous than the beefy bulbs available in the grocery produce section, and they’re much easier to work with.

Fresh fennel’s mild licorice taste with a crunchy-crisp texture is just as good raw in a salad as it is fired on the grill or baked to a mellow sweetness.

The fennel plant itself can be a little intimidating. The edible parts are the white bulb and the tender green fronds. So start by slicing off the stalks at the top of the bulb where they turn from white to green. Trim off and save the tender leafy parts, and discard the stems (unless you plan to use them under fish on the grill – keep reading). Slice the bulb in half and remove the thick white core at the bottom. Then slice the halves into wedges or diagonal slices, depending on the final use. One little secret is to blanch the fennel for 60 seconds in boiling water before grilling or using in a salad – it mellows the flavor and texture.

Fennel and fish are frequent companions. One of the simplest ways to combine them is to use the fennel stalks that you cut off the bulb as a base underneath fish on the grill. The heat of the grill sears their anise flavor into the fish – it’s great with the wonderful salmon that’s so abundant right now. Discard the stems after use. The sliced bulb can be drizzled with olive oil and grilled alongside the salmon.

One of my favorite ways to prepare fish is to simply steam it with veggies as in this recipe from Daniel Boulud, which adds abundantly available fresh spinach and fennel-friendly oranges. You can substitute the fabulous Volterra Fennel Salt (find it at T&C) for the fennel salt mentioned in the recipe. Fennel and orange come together in another way in this recipe for Seared Salmon with Fennel and Orange Salad .

Sliced raw fennel is a fine addition to summer salads. Combine it with some of the tender young beets on farmers’ tables in this feisty salad  from chef Alfred Portale. Or a grilled fennel salad   that combines fennel with a zesty mustard dressing and oranges. Or you can throw together spring veggies and spelt pasta from Mon Elisa’s to make a Roasted Vegetable and Pasta salad .

Fennel also makes a fabulous filling for lasagne , or roasted and mixed with tomatoes for a quick pasta sauce .

And for a new twist on the 4th of July BBQ, make some grilled sausage sandwiches with grilled fennel and sweet onions.

© 2009 Bainbridge Farmers Market