Summer’s Newest Crop Arrival: Fennel

Have you ever run the 26.2 mile marathon run?  If not, this vegetable is about to bring you that much closer.  The Greek term for fennel is marathon or marathos, referring to the battle of Marathon and quite literally a “plain of fennels” where it took place.  Additionally, fennel celebrates a rich history in Greek mythology in that knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal.  Furthermore, a giant fennel is the supposed origination of the Greek god of food and wine, Dionysus.  What a romantic story this interesting and classically beautiful vegetable enjoys!

Having originated in the Mediterranean, fennel has become widely popular in many parts of the world, but remains a centerpiece of Italian and French cuisine.  Fennel is an entirely edible plant with a  white to pale green bulb, closely arranged and superimposed stalks, and wispy, feathery fronds at its’ top.  It is a member of the Umbellifereae family and therefore shares many aesthetic similarities to dill, coriander, parsley, and carrots.  Appearance aside, it is highly aromatic and has a slightly sweet flavor with a crunchy texture likened to that of celery.

Fennel enjoys a bit of a cooler growing season, therefore is commonly occurring in the early summer and fall.  Our seed was started in the late winter/early spring and the starters then transplanted in early May.  Given our late winter, this is our first fennel harvest at Aspen Moon Farm and a gorgeous one at that.  Today, all four of us harvesters gathered in the fennel patch and reveled in the sweet anise aroma that each freshly cut fennel emitted.  We stood together in this four by twenty foot space and delighted in the arrival of summer’s newest crop.

Fennel has many medicinal uses, and, nutritionally, is especially rich in vitamin C and fiber, but also is a good source of potassium, folate, niacin, and several minerals.  One can use this perennial plant in a diverse number of ways in the kitchen.  Generally speaking, the stems should be used in stocks or soups and the leaves as an herb seasoning.  The bulb is as intensely flavored as it smells and should be cut in half with the core removed before slicing for use in any recipe.  From there, I cannot say that I have had it a way that I did not enjoy, but here are a few ideas to start:

–          Fennel slaw served over grilled fish

–          Roasted or braised served alongside any roasted meat

–          Raw in an arugula salad with fresh fruit of choice and blue cheese

–          Raw with orange supremes and avocado

Or try this seasonally inspired recipe:

Spring Fava Bean Fennel Salad Recipe

Ingredients

–          2-3 lbs fresh fava beans (also called broad beans), yielding about 1 1/2 to 2 cups shelled beans

–          Salt

–          1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced (mandoline  works well for this)

–          2 ounces Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced

–          – 10 fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade by stacking leaves and rolling them into a cigar shape, cut thin slices from the end)

–          2 scallions (green onions), sliced

–          Extra virgin olive oil

–          Lemon juice

–          Freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Remove fava beans from both their outer pod.
  2.  Add the beans to 2 quarts of boiling, salted water. Simmer the beans for a few minutes, until just tender. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beans from the pan and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, and to shock the beans into a bright green color. Let the beans sit in the ice water for a minute or two, then drain them and remove their peel.
  3. In a bowl, combine the freshly peeled and cooked fava beans, the sliced fennel, and onions. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Squeeze some lemon juice over the salad (about a tablespoon), add the Parmesan and mint, and toss to mix. Garnish with fennel fronds and/or mint sprigs

Also included in this week’s CSA share (varies by pick-up location):

– Salad mix or head lettuce

– Arugula or Spicy Greens mix

– Red spring onions, walla walla onions, or green shallots

– Green peppers, beets, or leafy greens

– Baby carrots

– Kohlrabi or fennel

– Broccoli

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