Culture

The Hipster’s Cookbook: Fennel

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Every week in The Hipster’s Cookbook, Meghan Bongartz shows you how to make delicious food on a tight budget.

There are a lot of food blogs out there devoted to the mystery vegetables people receive in CSA deliveries and the search to find uses for them.  If you run a Google search for “WTF CSA,” you’ll get a lot of results. Some of them deal with things like kohlrabi that people may not have heard of until it showed up on their doorstep, and some of them deal with people who don’t know what to do with lettuce. I don’t think there’s a lot of hope for those people. The CSA that I use preempts this problem by sending out a newsletter explaining what’s in the box and including recipes for unusual items or items that have been included in unusually large quantities, and it’s been a pretty good source of inspiration, even if I haven’t received anything yet that I really had NO idea what to do with.

One of the vegetables that shows up pretty frequently online as an image with a caption of “What is this and what do I do with it?” is fennel. And I guess it is kind of strange looking if you’ve never come across it before – a white bulb with long green stems and fern-like fronds – and some people are put off when they find out that it tastes like anise or liquorice. I’m still always surprised, though, when people haven’t heard of it because there’s really not much you can’t do with fennel. My mom always has fennel in her refrigerator and puts it in literally everything, from juice to enchiladas. You’re not out of luck if you don’t have a juicer, though. Fennel is great in salads as a more flavorful replacement for celery, and complements apples fantastically. If the anise taste is a little too much for you raw, you can also add fennel to soups and gratins, or even use it as a topping on a homemade pizza. Cooking mellows out the flavor considerably, so that it will be distinct, but not overpowering.

If all of that sounds complicated, or a handful of fennel in a salad isn’t going to use up nearly enough of it, oven roasting is probably your best option – and my personal favorite way to eat it anyways. For full disclosure, my CSA stopped giving me fennel months ago, but this cold weather has been making oven roasted vegetables sound really amazing. And, you know, grocery stores exist for this reason. The amounts below will make enough for a full meal for one person or a side dish for two or three people, but making more is just as easy.

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Roasted Fennel with Garlic and Olives

1/2 medium fennel bulb

6-8 cloves garlic

2-3 tbs olive oil

¼ cup fresh sage leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

2) Cut fennel into slices lengthwise, keeping a bit of the root/base on each slice so that it does not break apart. Cut the garlic cloves in half.

3) Combine fennel, garlic, olive oil, sage, and salt and pepper in a bowl, stirring until the fennel is coated in olive oil.

4) Transfer to baking pan in an even layer. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the garlic is aromatic, and the fennel has begun to soften and turn golden.

5) Remove from oven and add olives in the pan, stirring to combine while hot. Serve warm from the oven.