Fennel is one of those vegetables that is often overlooked here in North America. In Italy, fennel is utilized in many ways, from eating it raw as you would celery, to including it in soups, pasta sauces, or roasting or baking it as a side dish. Just like celery, the entire plant is edible, and its mild licorice flavor lends itself to many applications in the kitchen.
As well as tasting delicious, fennel is also nutritious and is packed full of iron, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. In our house, we enjoy nibbling on fennel raw after meals as it refreshes the palette and seems to aid in digestion. Although when fresh, its crisp texture and fresh flavor is delightful, when cooked, the taste of the bulbs mellow, the anise flavor softens, and a subtle earthy sweetness develops. Fennel seeds have a stronger anise flavor and add a unique flavor to both sweet and savory dishes.
Fennel is a cool-weather crop and can be found from fall to early winter. The most cultivated variety is Florence fennel or finocchio. If you aren’t growing your own, fennel is widely available at most grocery stores year-round or at a farmers market in season.
When buying fennel, look for small, dense, white bulbs that are firm and free of cracks, browning, or moist areas. The stalks should be crisp, with feathery, bright-green fronds. Wrapped in plastic, fennel will keep for a few days in your refrigerator.
If you’re planning to cook fresh fennel, it can be sliced, chopped, or quartered before roasting, grilling, or braising. To prepare a fennel bulb, trim any brown edges from the bottom and remove the stems and fronds. I cut the fennel bulb into quarters and then cut out the tough center core. If you are serving fennel raw like in this salad, it’s best sliced very thin, and this is when a mandolin comes in very handy.
Over the holidays, fresh, fat bulbs of fennel could be found in all of my local grocery stores, so I decided to buy a few to make this tasty raw salad that originated from Sicily. Sliced thin and paired with segments of sweet oranges, salty Kalamata olives, and mint, it is both refreshing and uniquely flavorful. I am not a big fan of raw onions, so I added a little chopped green onion in my version, although thin slices of red onion are more common.
I also like to add some lightly toasted pine nuts from time to time to this salad when I have them available. This fresh salt needs just a light dressing made from freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil to complete. I like to serve this salad as a starter during the winter months, followed by a heartier main course.
- 3 Medium Fennel Bulbs
- 2 Medium Navel Oranges
- 1/2 Thinly Sliced Red Onion, or 3 Green Onions, Chopped
- 1/2 Cup Pitted Kalamata Olives, Coarsely Chopped
- 5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
- Salt & Pepper to Taste
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint or Parsley, Chopped
- To cut the oranges, using a sharp knife, slice off each end.
- Place the oranges on a cutting board cut side down.
- Slicing down, cut away the peel along with the pith from top to bottom.
- Once the peel has been removed, working over a bowl, carefully remove the orange segments from the membrane that separates them.
- Remove any seeds, cut the orange segments in half and place in large bowl.
- Cut the fennel bulbs in quarters, cutting away any brown spots, then using a sharp knife, cut away the core.
- Using either a sharp knife or mandolin, slice the fennel very thinly, then place in the bowl with the orange segments.
- In a small bowl. whisk together the lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper, and mint.
- Add the onions and olives to the bowl with the fennel, then drizzle the dressing over everything.
- Gently toss, then arrange salad on a platter.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 250Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 217mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 5gSugar: 9gProtein: 2g