Fennel adds celery-like crunch to salads

March 23, 1994|By Bea Lewis | Bea Lewis,Newsday

Fennel is an aromatic plant that tastes a little like licorice, even though you'd never guess that from its appearance. Fennel plant looks like a flattened bunch of celery with a large white bulbous base and feathery green leaves. The raw bulb is crunchy and celery-like in texture with a pronounced sweet licorice taste. (You may find it called anise in some markets.) It's a nice addition to a medley of watercress, tossed with red onion rings and slices of fresh orange with a drizzle of vinaigrette dressing. It's rich in vitamin A, offers some calcium and potassium and has only 28 calories in a 3 1/2 -ounce portion.

When shopping for fennel, look for firm, white bulbs with rigid, crisp stalks. Avoid those that are cracked, with brown bottoms or dried yellow tops. To store, refrigerate in a plastic bag. It should last about five days. When ready to serve, rinse well and trim the stalks within 1/2 to 1 inch of the bulb. Discard the hard outside stalks and reserve the leaves for garnish. Cut away and discard the bulb base. Cut the bulb lengthwise into halves or quarters, then cut it into julienne strips or crosswise slices.

Parmesan-topped fennel puree

1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered

Makes 6 servings

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped

2 cups defatted chicken broth

1/2 cup skim milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

salt and white pepper to taste

2 tablespoons each grated Parmesan cheese and flavored bread crumbs

Boil potatoes until tender; about 30 minutes. Drain well. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mash well. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, combine fennel with the broth and cook over medium heat until tender; about 15 minutes. Drain and puree in food processor. Add to potatoes along with milk and butter. Then transfer to oven-proof casserole; top with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Brown under broiler for a few minutes.

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The following recipe is from "The 5 in 10 Chicken Breast Cookbook."

Chicken braised with fennel and tomatoes

Makes 4 servings

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small fennel bulb, about 8 ounces

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 16-ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes

1 teaspoon fennel seed

Cut chicken into 2 1/2 -inch pieces and season with salt and pepper. Cut fennel crosswise into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large fry pan. Add chicken and cook over medium-high heat until browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove chicken to a plate, leaving the drippings in the pan. Add fennel to pan along with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes to the pan along with 1/4 cup water and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low. Return chicken and any of the accumulated juices on the plate to the pan. Cover and cook until the chicken is white but still moist, about 5 to 7 minutes.

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This recipe is from "The New Basics Cookbook."

Pasta, fennel and sardines

Makes 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, cut into julienne

1 fennel bulb, cut into julienne

12 ounces spaghetti

1/2 cup each golden raisins and toasted pine nuts

2 cans (4 1/2 ounces each) sardines, drained

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat oil in large skillet; saute onion and fennel over low heat until soft, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

Add raisins and nuts to skillet; cook 5 minutes longer. Remove skillet from heat, add sardines and parsley; toss gently. Serve immediately over hot spaghetti.

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