August 1, 2008

Fennel Gets its Due

One vegetable that all to often gets the proverbial diss is fennel.

People are always asking me what they can possibly do with it and how they can mask the strong taste.

If you're unfamiliar with fennel, it is a type of plant with an edible bulb, which resembles pale celery—only shorter and fatter. The taste is similar to a very mild black licorice. Rich in fiber and antioxidants, fennel is a versatile addition to cooking often found in soups and salads.

As a fan of fennel, I prefer to make it the star of a dish, rather than try to cover it up with other flavors. With just a handful of ingrendients, most of which I have onhand at any given time, I threw together some quick pan-fried fennel a la Martha Stewart. I had saved a recipe for Green Garlic Dip a while ago and have been trying to figure out how I could include it in or with a dish.

The two went together great and made a perfect summer appetizer. Everyone tried some and I didn't get one complaint (and my group doesn't mince words). The fennel had a nice crunch that paired nicely with the bread crumb coating and the fresh, subtle flavor of the green garlic.

Pan-Fried Fennel
from Martha Stewart

2 medium fennel bulbs
1 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs, for dredging
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, just enough to yield about 1/4 inch in the pan
2 lemons, cut into wedges One recipe Green Garlic Dip

Remove tops and fronds from fennel bulbs. Slice each bulb in half widthwise. Cut each half into slices about 1/8 inch thick.

Pour flour into a medium bowl and bread crumbs into another. Season with the salt and pepper. Crack eggs into a third bowl; whisk until frothy. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge fennel lightly in flour, then in egg, and then in bread crumbs, shaking off excess after each step.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Check to make sure the oil is hot enough by tossing a pinch of flour into the pan. If the flour sizzles, the oil is ready.

Fry fennel slices until golden brown on each side, about 30 seconds per side, working in batches so as not to crowd pan. Drain on paper towels; season with salt. Serve hot with Green Garlic Dip (recipe follows).

Green Garlic Dip
from Daniel Patterson, chef and owner of Coi in San Francisco

¾ cup minced green garlic, white and light green parts only
1 egg
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
6 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pure olive oil

In a blender, purée the egg, vinegars and cooled green garlic on medium-high. With the blender running, add the oils in a slow, steady stream to emulsify. Season with salt.