As one who used to nearly convulse from even getting too close to a waft of licorice, the thought of eating fennel kept this plant at bay. But last year at school we braised some, and, well, I’ve been missing out all these years.
Fennel as a plant is extremely versatile in cooking. Its base can be used as a vegetable while the fronds can be used as herbs. The seeds are often used in pickle brine. It has a strong anise or licorice-like taste. When the base is cooked slowly in the oven, it develops a complex taste with sweet tones. Often you will see different varieties of seeds for fennel the vegetable and fennel the herb.
Fennel is pretty easy to grow. I mean, I had some from last spring and left it alone to see what would happen. Shut off the sprinklers and forgot about it. And, well…viola! Two fennel heads per root a week into February.
I was again inspired to use what I had in the pantry, so decided on a Grapefruit Fennel Salad for lunch. It took about 8 minutes to put together, and could have fed 2. (What can I say, I was hungry…)
1 grapefruit, pink or red
1 small head of fennel, bulb only (reserve fronds for another use)
6-10 leaves of fresh mint
1/2 avocado, in 1/4″ chunks (optional)
grapefruit juice, reserved from preparing grapefruit
1 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp good quality olive oil
pinch Kosher salt
1. Prepare grapefruit: Using a large (“chef” or Santoku) knife, cut the skin off the grapefruit in pieces. Start with the bottom so the fruit won’t roll on you, then cut off the sides, followed by the top. Using a paring knife, then clean up any of the remaining pith. It’s bitter. You probably don’t want to eat it.
2. Supreme the grapefruit. Sure, it sounds fancy, but it’s pretty simple. Using your paring knife, slice into the fruit staying as close to a membrane as possible. Slice all the way down. Then, on the other side of that section of fruit, slice all the way down, freeing that segment from the membrane. Alternately, after cutting down the first side, in the center of the section along the seeds slip your thumbs underneath, run them in opposite directions from the center outward, and pop out the segment. Try to keep the segments whole, or at least in large pieces. Be sure to remove all seeds. Reserve segments in a medium bowl, and remaining juice in a small bowl.
5. Optional: Add avocado pieces.
6. Chop mint into thin strips. Add to salad.
6. Finish the dressing: To the grapefruit juice, add balsamic, olive oil, and salt. Mix well, beating with a fork. Pour atop salad and toss through.
Serve your salad in a bowl. Alternately, instead of mixing the ingredients together, on a rectangular platter spread out the grapefruit supremes (and avocado, cut in slices) in a row down the center of the plate. Sprinkle the fennel pieces over grapefruit/avocados, then pour the dressing over the grapefruit and avocados in a line down the center of the platter.
I find the sweetness from the balsamic balances out the acid from the citrus, and the oil provides additional flavor and good mouthfeel. The avocado provides contrast with its creamy texture, and the acid from the citrus will prevent browning.
I hope you enjoy!!
Now, to figure out what to do with all those beautiful leftover fronds…