Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
I’m not saying that a forkful of fennel carries super strength or godlike knowledge, but I will say that this vegetable’s properties reach mythological proportions. High in Vitamin C and fiber, this flowering plant’s centuries-long reputation precedes itself both culturally and culinarily.
It was in a stalk of fennel that Prometheus brought knowledge and fire to mankind, and this vegetable later cropped up as a means of regaining strength after battle for Roman soldiers. In later centuries, fennel fronds were thought to ward off evil spirits. Today, it’s cultivated throughout the world, though it’s especially prominent in the Mediterranean, its native region.
How to Prepare
If you’re buying fennel with stalks attached, be sure to look for smooth, firm stems and bulbs. The bulb should be heavy, with layers tightly compressed. Fronds should be a vibrant, fresh green — not limp or brown.
What to Buy
Fennel makes for a crisp addition to salads when left raw and sliced thin, or can be a perfect side when braised until tender. Many recipes feature fennel’s white bulb, but the stalks and verdant fronds also can be cooked, adding a sweet and mild anise flavor to stocks.
Arugula and Pickled Fennel Salad
By Trevor Knotts of East Coast Provisions
1 pound of arugula
1 bulb of fennel, with stalks and fronds
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of apple cider vinegar
1⁄3 cup of sugar
1 cardamom pod
Grey salt, to taste
Pink peppercorns, to taste
Using a peeler, slice the orange rinds into large strips, and set aside two for the pickling liquid. Chiffonade the sliced rinds for a garnish. Using a knife, remove the remaining peel, then slice the orange segments into pieces, removing the membrane, over a bowl to catch all the juice. Separate the fennel stalks from the bulb, and remove the best-looking fronds to use as garnish. Set aside. Trim the little branches off of the stalks, then finely dice each stalk — the smaller, the better. Set aside to pickle. Cut ½-inch-wide wedges of the fennel bulb, and sear them over high heat with oil, salt and pepper, roughly three minutes on each side. Set the wedges on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Shave the remainder of the fennel bulb into ribbons with a vegetable peeler.
Begin the pickling liquid by bringing the apple cider vinegar, cardamom, sugar, a pinch of salt and the two orange ribbons to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and pour over the diced stalks. Allow to cool.
Toss the arugula and shaved, raw fennel, and add the pickled stalks, salt and a splash of the fresh juice from the oranges. Top with the seared fennel and sliced oranges, and sprinkle with pink peppercorns, orange zest and fennel fronds to garnish.