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A Medley of Fennel, Onion and Parmesan

One of the objectives of this Web site is to encourage experienced home cooks to try different products.  Fennel is a prime candidate.  More people would venture forth to try this crisp, sweet scented vegetable, with edible bulbs and stems and graceful (dill-like) aromatic foliage garnish, if grocerers would stop labeling it “anise” or  “sweet anise”, which it is not, and more consistently label it “fennel,” “bulbing fennel” and/or finocchio fennel (from Italy, where it got its start).  Schneider as well as Herbst make the point the fennel is not anise and has a much sweeter, more delicate and complex taste than licorice, especially when cooked.  Thomas Jefferson reportedly labored to cultivate fennel in Monticello on the recommendation of his friend Thomas Appleton, then American consul in Florence. 

What to do with the stuff?  It's versatile.  Fennel can be prepared and served raw like cabbage, braised like endive and celeriac, or sautéed or grilled like onions.  Served raw, it favors the company of prosciutto, smoked salmon, oranges, cold slaw or vinaigrette.  Braised, it can served as a side (dressed as above) or be pureed and joined with mashed potatoes.  For all, fennel is in love with Parmesan cheese. 

At the produce counter, choose fennel with nice looking bulbs, without browned edges, and lacy green foliage.  Schneider says that if the foliage has been cut off, complain to your grocer).  Despite its hardy appearance, fennel does not keep well for more than four days, refrigerated.  That's why browned bulbs in the grocery should be avoided as over the hill.

Here we have a nice side dish that goes especially well with fish, though we had it a couple of days ago with rib eye steak.  The ratio of fennel to onion is a chef's choice.  At school, we made it as 4 parts fennel and 1 part onion, without cheese.  I like 1:1 or 2:1 better and certainly with a little cheese.  French cooks call this a “fondue”—a mixture of vegetables, cooked slowly, and served as a garnish.  That's nice, but in this country, a “fondue” refers to food cooked in a pot at the table.  So, to avoid confusion, let's call what we're after here a “medley.” 
 

A Medley of Fennel, Onion and Parmesan Cheese
Yield:  2 generous servings
See Abbreviations, if needed 

·   1                       fennel bulb, halved and cored (1 part) 
·   1-2                   onions, thinly sliced (1 part)
·   2 T                    butter
·   8-12 oz            chicken broth or stock
·   salt                   to taste (needs quite a lot)
·   white pepper    freshly ground, to taste
·   1/3 C               freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano 

1.  Remove the green portion of the stalks and ferns from the fennel, 
     half the bulb lengthwise and remove the core
2.  Run the fennel halves through a food processor using a blade 
     appropriate for cold slaw, and set aside
3.  Slice a large onion thinly and sweat in butter to translucent
     in an medium size evasée or  high-sided sauté pan 
4.  Add the shredded fennel and season generously with salt and white pepper
5.  Add chicken broth to a level just below covering the onion/fennel mix
6.  BTB, reduce heat and simmer covered until all is tender, about 35 minutes
7.  When done, adjust seasoning
8.  Transfer the hot confit from the pan into a colander to drain
9.  When ready to serve:
      ·   Return the drained confit to the pan 
      ·   Reheat 
      ·   Add the grated cheese and stir in thoroughly to melt
10.  Serve hot with fish or meat 



 

 

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