Bringing Europe Home

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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??

28 Comments

  1. Gina

    oven roasting is a simple and yummy way to eat fennel as it brings out the sweetness. we don’t always think about eating fennel. i love that you mixed it with onion. thanks for sharing.

    • You’re welcome! And I love Diana’s suggestion, too, of roasting fennel with a combination of other vegetables. I must try that!

  2. Ow of my favourite vegetables, incredibly wholesome, economical & versatile! I’ve heard of recipes which use the fronds in biscuits (I guess because of the anisette flavours) Like yourself I’ll bake it and use the tops to garnish.

    • You’re inspiring me to eat it more often! Fronds in biscuits? (Oh, cookies, right? :-) ) That’s a clever use! Thanks for sharing, Girl!

  3. Never thought to do that with fennel before; great idea for a quick/easy dinner!

  4. Diana Fitzgerald

    Hey Robina, I have 2 fave recipes using fennel–a potato fennel gratin (yum!!) and a seafood chowder with leeks and fennel, mussels, scallops and fish–I love halibut or grouper! Fennel is also fab roasted with other root veggies, like parsnips, carrots, yams–a little olive oil and sea salt…oooooh yum!

  5. I make it in the oven and then when it is still hot I toss some freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano on it and it is so good.

    • I’ve heard that that’s one way to eat it after baking, and it does sound delicious. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Kay

    I never knew what to do with fennel before. Now I do! Thanks Robin.

    • You’re welcome, Kay! There are really soooo many more ways that fennel can be used, but this is a start! I know that it pairs well with fish, and it can be cooked with chicken or pork as well. I might step out of my box and try it another way sometime. :-)

  7. That looks wonderful and easy to do. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked fennel in my life, although I have eaten it a few times in restaurants. I didn’t know you could slice it raw into salads, I might try that, and I would like to try this caramelized recipe as it sounds delicious. The fronds are very beautiful and remind me of carrot tops which I always feel are far too pretty to throw away.

    • I was munching away on it as I was slicing it last night. It has a crisp, clear, slightly anise flavor when raw–itt reminds me a bit of jicama, which also adds an interesting, crunchy twist to salads. The fronds are nice, and the plant itself is classified as an herb, I believe.

      • Jicama? That’s a new one on me. I’m going to look out for fennel although it’s not something I see much in shops here.

  8. I’ve only roasted it in the oven once…I had no idea what to do with the fronds so they went on my compost heap! That’s not a waste now is it! ;-)

    • No, it is not, and good for you! Really, the fronds are so plentiful it’s a challenge to use them all. I wonder if they freeze?? I’ll have to google that. :-)

  9. TBM

    I never heard of fennel until I moved to London. I was watching a show and this guy was picking fresh fennel and I was like what in the heck do you do with that. Now I know!

  10. Herbstbaum

    My favorite vegetable.

    • Wow! That’s wonderful! I would love to know how you prepare it. :-)

  11. Robin, fennels are a good source of minerals and water. Try with eggs, roast first than chop them finely and mix in with the scrambled eggs. Delicious! One other way, we cook them in Italy is baked with lamb, or any kind of meat, even sausage. Raw mixed in any salads are so filling and refreshing.

    • Thank you for this, Valentina! I never thought of cooking them with eggs, but that sounds wonderful. Have you ever chopped the fronds and used those to flavor eggs?

      • I eat fennels in all the ways possible, even the fronds.

  12. That sounds great–I’ve only ever carmelized fennel on the stovetop and this sounds even easier! And I love the idea of serving it on a baked potato made at the same time. Yum!

    • Thanks, Emmy! It made a very tasty dinner servered along with sauted spinach. And it was all everything free!(Except for flavor!)

  13. connie20

    Oh my goodness, how delicious! I can’t seem to put a finger on where or when, but I KNOW I’ve had this before. I can almost taste that sweet, licorice-ish flavor! This dish is definitely not one you see often… thanks for sharing and bringing it back to mind. :)

    • I’ve seen caramalized fennel here and there, as well. And whenever I make this, the aroma reminds me of my Nana’s Italian sausage, which was studded with fennel seeds. I don’t like licorice, but I love the flavor of fennel and anise! Thanks for sharing, Connie. :-)

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  1. Growing Bulb Fennel (Finocchio) « Giantveggiegardener's Blog

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