Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fennel in Fifteen Minutes Flat

How great is fennel? A fountain of fragrant, feathery green leaves sprouts from the heart of a pale bulb that tastes like no other vegetable in the garden. Having two fennel bulbs AND their fronds feels to me like being rich; I fight the urge to save them all for a special occasion. The fact is, you can’t hoard vegetables. You have to spend them, and the sooner the better.

I’ll cut off the fronds and put them aside for now. Today I'll cook the bulb. It’s delicious roasted, but I can't see my way to roast things on this sunny day in the middle of summer. Besides, that would take soooooooo long, and I'm hungry NOW. I’m going to cook it in butter and serve it on top of pasta.

As it sautés, the fennel fills my kitchen with a spicy-sweet fragrance that makes me think of nothing so much as cookies—particularly, the anise biscotti that my 94-year-old grandmother still makes. The finished dish perfectly balances the sweetness of orange juice and lightly caramelized fennel against the savor of garlic and the warmth of the ginger. The soft richness of the vegetables practically melts onto perfectly al dente pasta. Best of all, it only took fifteen minutes to prepare.


Gingered Fennel with Garlic over Pasta

This recipe is modified so heavily from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites (Clarkson Potter, New York, 1996) that the Moosewood Collective would probably disavow it. I would maybe serve this on linguine next time, but whole wheat fusilli is what I had in the cupboard.

You can heat the water while you do the prep work, then boil the pasta while you’re cooking the fennel. Everything will be done together. Hooray!

2 fennel bulbs (mine weighed ¾ pound total)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
1/3 cup orange juice
½ to 1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
½ pound dry pasta, cooked al dente

Trim the fronds off the fennel, halve and core the bulbs, and slice thin. I sliced up the stalks, too, because I was feeling greedy and wishing I had even more fennel.

Heat the butter in a heavy pan or skillet. Sauté the fennel for about 5 minutes. It will start to color. Add the garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more.

Turn down the heat, add the ginger root and the orange juice, and simmer until the fennel is tender—about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, sprinkle the sugar over the fennel, and season with salt and pepper.

By now your pasta should be done. Drain it and toss or top it with the fennel. This will make between two and four main course servings.