What are your thoughts on fennel?
My first experience with fennel happened a million years ago when I lived in Philadelphia. I went to a little French restaurant at that time called The Knave of Hearts. I had some sort of fish en papillote. As I was eating the vegetables in my little steamed parcel, there was a new flavor to me that I couldn’t identify. Very fresh and almost like licorice, the waiter informed me that it was fennel. I’ve been hooked ever since!
This is a simple but extraordinary side dish of sweet fennel roasted with fresh thyme, basil and chives and sprinkled with crushed green peppercorns and grated asiago cheese. Sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, cheesey; this is just as good as a finger snack as it is a side dish to your main meal.
It all begins with some lovely fennel; a root vegetable and flowering herb in the carrot family.
Roasting caramelizes the fennel, bringing out it’s delightful anise flavor even more.
You can serve this as a side, snack or appetizer. I love the combinations of flavors that are playing together here: slightly sweet licorice, fresh herbs and tangy, salty asiago cheese. All warm and sweet and salty and crunchy and cheesey. So so good!
I really love the fresh anise flavor of fennel. I use it raw many times in salads. One of my favorites is this Honeydew, Fennel & Castelvetrano Olive Salad. But if you are unsure, try this roasted fennel recipe first. It really mellows out that slightly sweet licorice flavor.
- *2 fennel bulbs (seen note below on how to prepare them)
- 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons of mixed herbs (I used thyme, basil and chives)
- ⅓ cup of Asiago, Romano or Parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- several grinds of fresh cracked green peppercorns
- *NOTE: Trim the fennel bulbs. Quarter each bulb vertically. Remove most of the core, keeping just enough to keep the fennel slices together. The core pops out very easily. Slice each quarter in half.
- Place your oven rack in the top third of your oven.
- Place a baking sheet on the rack and preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.
- Place the fennel slices in a large bowl.
- Drizzle with the olive oil and toss gently.
- When the oven is ready, remove the pan, and quickly and carefully toss the fennel on the baking sheet, spreading them out to one layer.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, until softened and slightly golden.
- Sprinkle with the herbs, and then the cheese.
- Bake for another 3-4 minutes.
- Shut off the oven and set the broiler to high.
- Broil for another 1-2 minutes to brown the cheese.
- Serve immediately.
- NOTE: Don't worry that the fennel doesn't appear to be dark in color when checking your oven. The browning happens on the underside of the fennel. Once you remove them from the pan, turn the fennel over on your serving place. Garnish with additional herbs if your prefer.