This was just the dish to lift me out of my winter vegetable rut – slices of fennel roasted until caramelized, showered with delicately salty shavings of Parmesan to balance the sweet soft crunch of the fennel. I adore fennel but never seem to buy it, probably because finding it requires real hunting at the supermarket. But this simple dish, from the fantastic Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame, reminds me why fennel (aka finocchio) is so beloved in Italy.
Fennel is a versatile herb with a distinctive licorice taste that is milder when cooked, more pronounced when raw. Fennel seeds are a primary flavoring in Italian sausages and are also common in Indian cuisine. Fresh fennel, often mislabeled as anise, is a white bulb topped by long green stalks with feathery, dill-like leaves. The fennel bulb has the light crunch of celery without the stringiness, and it is wonderful raw or cooked.
This dish is a great introduction to fennel. Roasting brings out the sweetness of the fennel and softens the anise flavor. The sharp saltiness of Parmesan is an excellent complement to fennel, cooked or raw, and here the thin shavings add a fresh touch to the soft roasted fennel.
Start with two large bulbs (these were more medium, but my Ohio supermarket only had three).
Trim off stalks and the bottom of the bulbs. Stalks can be used for flavoring stock (unintentional homophones!), and the fennel fronds can be used as a fresh herb, pairing particularly well with egg and fish dishes. With a larger bulb I might have discarded the outside leaves, but since these were already smallish I used a knife to shave off any brown spots on the outside.
Halve the bulbs lengthwise.
And slice vertically into 1/2-inch slices.
Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Ina tosses the fennel directly on the baking sheet, and though I love to minimize dishes to wash, I find it easier to toss in a bowl first.
And spread on baking sheet.
Ina says to roast the fennel for an hour, turning at 30 minutes. My fennel was pretty well cooked at 30 minutes, probably because my oven was on convection.
I took it out at 45 minutes, when it looked well caramelized and I couldn’t wait any longer to taste it. Add salt and pepper as needed.
All of it (minus a few tasters) on a plate. Like many vegetables, it really shrinks during cooking.
I use a vegetable peeler to shave the Parmesan. You can use a thin, sharp knife as well, but the vegetable peeler makes for thinner, curlier shavings.
According to Ina, whose serving sizes are usually generous, two large bulbs should have served three. My husband had a head start on eating dinner and generously saved me half, but either of us could have eaten this by ourselves. Even my seven year old loved it. I may have to start hoarding fennel until my supermarket gets the picture and starts stocking it in greater quantity.
Roasted fennel would make an outstanding side dish for fish or meat. I would gladly eat it as dinner. This was perfect as is, but I’m thinking a squeeze of lemon would also be really nice next time.
Give fennel a chance. If you don’t like it, I will come over take care of the problem personally. Yum.
Roasted Fennel with Parmesan
An irresistible introduction to the wonders of fennel and a nice break from standard winter vegetables. Adapted from Ina Garten on foodnetwork.com.
- 2 large fennel bulbs
- 1/4 cup good olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/8 teaspoon table salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 lemon (optional)
- Parmesan shavings
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Cut the stems off the fennel and trim the bottoms of the bulbs. Shave off any brown spots on the outside of the bulbs. Slice the bulbs in half lengthwise. With the cut side down, slice each half vertically into 1/2-inch-thick slices, cutting right through the core.
- In a mixing bowl, toss fennel slices with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat. Spread the fennel slices on a baking sheet (you can also toss the fennel directly on the baking sheet).
- Roast the fennel slices for 45 minutes to an hour, turning them once after 30 minutes, until the edges are crisp and brown.
- Remove from the oven and taste for salt and pepper. Squeeze lemon over, if using. Cover with Parmesan shavings and serve.
- I reduced the salt from the original recipe, as mine turned out a bit too salty. I thought I’d leave it to you to add more salt as needed after cooking, especially since the Parmesan adds saltiness to the dish as well.
- I use a vegetable peeler to shave the Parmesan. You can use a thin, sharp knife as well, but the vegetable peeler makes for thinner, curlier shavings.
Here’s the link to a printable version of the recipe.