When Mel of BouchonFor2 and Leela of SheSimmers announced that December was Battle Fennel – part of their monthly Beet n’ Squash food fight- I knew I had to participate. This was my chance to bring fennel into my own kitchen and come up with something delicious.
In the spirit of the holidays, I used Battle Fennel to bring together the staff at my workplace. Working in a restaurant, you don’t often get to experiment or really have fun with your ingredients. There is a menu to follow, guests to cater to, and a job to be done. I used this opportunity to take a short break from routine and to get the place abuzz with the thought of fennel. A few people didn’t even know what fennel was. Together we tasted, we chopped, we whisked, and we learned.
I already had a general idea of how I wanted to prepare my fennel. I wanted to keep it simple and light. The fennel was kept raw for a fabulously unspoiled Fennel Salad with Fuyu Persimmons and Apple Cider Thyme Vinaigrette. Together the staff decided to add Caña De Oveja cheese to compliment the salad. This sheep’s milk cheese from Southeast Spain is creamy and lusciously soft with very pronounced citrus notes. Building up layers one by one, we fanned the paper thin slices of fennel, dressed the wedges of crunchy sweet persimmon, dotted it with the buttery cheese and sprinkled it with fresh thyme. The result was a salad of incredible depth. The flavors of licorice from the fennel, the hints of clove found through the persimmon, and the lemony tang of the cheese all combine to wash over the tongue in one succulent and flavorful bite. It is the perfect way to enjoy fennel.
Playing off of the flavors of licorice so strongly associated with fennel, I decided to make candied fennel. During the holidays there are candied fruits galore, so I thought what better holiday treat than a candied strip of fennel. And it works! I boiled the thin strips of fennel in simple syrup for five minutes. I laid the soaked fennel on a rack to dry. After a few minutes is was sticky and ready for coating. I rolled it in vanilla sugar and I left it to crystallize. The end result was fantastically sweet and toothsome, the most ordinary vegetable now transformed into a holiday treat.