Italians eat fennel (finocchio) in much the same way as Americans eat celery, raw with perhaps a bit of salt.
Tossed in a salad, fennel adds a wonderful aromatic crunchy bite. You may also enjoy it cooked, braised, sauteed, roasted or baked.
Fennel is actually a bulb-like herb with little yellow flowers and is used as a vegetable.
I use the bulb in place of celery in some recipes, the fennel seeds in Italian sausage and meatballs and the fronds (those feathery, fern-like leaves), mostly as a garnish or finely minced as a fresh herb.
When purchasing fennel, which is sometimes incorrectly labeled as anise, choose firm stalks (just like you would for celery) and store in the refrigerator. If you’ve never eaten fennel, this roasted version is a tasty introduction to this versatile plant.
- 1 bulb fennel
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- With a sharp knife, remove the stem end of the bulb, trim away any stems and fronds (reserve stems for another recipe, save fronds for garnish).
- Slice each bulb in half, lengthwise (top to stem end of bulb).
- Cut each half into quarters, remove the cores, be careful not to cut all the way through (creating slices instead of wedges).
In an ovenproof baking dish, pour in the olive oil, place the 8 fennel wedges on top of the oil.
Season each piece with salt and red pepper flakes (1/4 teaspoon for flavor enhancement, up to 1/2 teaspoon for extra heat).
Using a spoon, place Parmesan cheese directly on top of each wedge (it’s okay if some falls into the oil).
Roast at 350* for 30 minutes, then very carefully, remove pan from oven, turn over each piece, return to oven for an additional 30 minutes. Fennel is done when the Parmesan has turned nice and brown. Let cool in the pan 15 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove the finocchio, garnish with the reserved fronds. Save the oil in a covered jar, refrigerate. We’ll use it for a delicious pasta recipe (coming next month).