Fennel is one of those misunderstood foods, like anchovies. For years, I avoided it because cookbooks described it as tasting like licorice. If you hate licorice, and there are lots of us out there who do, fennel avoidance will be the name of the game. Fortunately, I eventually summoned some courage and ordered braised fennel at a restaurant. Imagine my surprise! It tasted delicious. Yes, there is a faint taste of anise, but it's not objectionable at all. And combined with other flavors like olive oil and parmesan, it's flat out delightful and one of my favorite vegetables now. Who knew?
Last night I made a salad of fennel, fresh mushrooms, and parmesan. And this morning I tried to persuade my friend Glenna to give fennel a try. But, she hates licorice and is reluctant to take a chance with her taste buds. And so it goes. I understand.
I say unto you licorice haters out there--buy that bulb of fennel you avert your eyes from in the produce section. It's waiting for you, so you can fall in love.
This is how much I love this salad: I finished preparing it and had a small serving. I then looked at the rest of the salad and toyed with the idea of eating the entire bowl of it myself, and giving Bob steamed broccoli instead. He would never know. And he likes broccoli. This type of ethical dilemma sometimes occurs in the kitchen. But Good Sher prevailed this time. Bob got his salad and was just as enthusiastic about it as me.
The recipe is from the Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison, which is turning into my most reliable resource.
Fennel, Mushroom, and Parmesan Salad (Deborah Madison)
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2- 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 strips of lemon peel, minced
1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds crushed with the back of a wooden spoon or in a mortar
4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces large, firm mushrooms, wiped clean
1 fennel bulb
1 tablespoon fennel greens, chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
3 ounces Parmesan Reggiano, shaved in paper thin slices
Pound garlic and salt in a mortar until soft and smooth. Stir in lemon juice and peel, fennel seeds, and olive oil to make a rangy vinaigrette.
Thinly slice the mushrooms and dress them with a few tablespoons of the oil, add ground pepper. Press a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap onto the surface of the mushrooms so they don't turn brown and set aside to marinate for one hour.
Trim the fennel bulb and cut into quarters. Remove most of the core, then slice it lengthwise very thinly, leaving the pieces joined together. Dress with most of the remaining vinaigrette, half the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Layer the mushrooms, cheese and fennel on each plate and spoon the rest of the dressing over each serving.