Eat That Bulb! Oven Caramelized Fennel
WHAT IT IS
Its seeds are flavoring Italian sausage, its fronds are garnishing a dish, and its bulbs are caramelizing in the oven—this is one versatile plant. Fennel has a delicate anise flavor (though it is not actually anise), and it can be eaten raw or cooked. Frequently used in the cuisine of Italy and throughout the Mediterranean, it seems to me that fennel is often overlooked in the U.S. And that’s understandable—its long, feathery fronds and bulbous appearance make it rather daunting to someone who’s dashing through a grocery store and scanning the produce section, trying to figure out “what’s for dinner.” But really, it’s very easy to prepare. The bulb can be sliced thin and added raw to salads, or it can be cooked in the simplest of methods– such as the one that I use.
BRING IT HOME
My favorite thing to do with fennel is to bake it in the oven with onions until it caramelizes and then use it as a topping for baked potatoes. (Honestly, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that’s the only thing I’ve ever done with fennel. I do tend to get into dinner ruts!)
The thing about this dish is that it can be as “free” as you want it to be. You can go gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free… or not. So if you want to add a few tablespoons of butter or substitute chicken stock for the water or top it with cheese—feel free!
Oven Caramelized Fennel
Preheat oven to 425
Wash the fennel bulb, removing or peeling any unappetizing brown spots. Cut off the fronds and base of the bulb. Cut the bulb in half, then slice it. (Some recipes call for the core of the bulb to be removed, but if it’s small and unassuming, I just cook it along with the rest of the bulb.)
Put the sliced fennel in a baking dish and add 1/4 cup chopped onion.* Drizzle liberally with good olive oil. Add 1/4 cup of water. Cover and bake for 40-45 minutes. **
*I think that a lot of onion overpowers the anise flavor, but here again, if you want to use an entire onion, I won’t stop you!
**The reason I use this with baked potatoes is that I let my foil-wrapped potatoes bake in the oven alongside the fennel, and it’s all ready to eat at the same time.
When the baking is complete, your fennel and onions will be a lovely brown color, and so will your baking dish. Don’t worry! It’s all part of the caramelizing process, so scrape down the sides, give it a good stir, and serve it up.
You can garnish it with some chopped fronds for added color and flavor. You can also add the fronds to salads or soups, or as a topping when baking salmon.
And this begs the question….
What do you do with the fronds??