Vail Seasonal: Fragrant fennel should be a staple |

Vail Seasonal: Fragrant fennel should be a staple

Sue Barham
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Allison JosevowitzVail seasonal: Tangy pickled fennel balances rich, braised meats.

VAIL, Colorado –You may not recognize it in Vail Valley supermarkest. Fennel is a perennial herb, but looks like a root vegetable. It has a large round bulb as its base from which stalks shoot up and are capped by feathery fronds. All three parts are edible, so there is little to no waste when you purchase this versatile plant. In late summer the fennel plant flowers and sheds its seeds. The dried seeds are readily available, packaged as a spice, and are commonly used in savory dishes and homeopathic remedies.

In its raw state, fennel has a texture similar to celery and a mild, slightly sweet flavor reminiscent of licorice. Its unusual but pleasant aroma adds interest to salads. When cooked, fennel takes on properties similar to carrots or parsnips, providing a solid base for roasting meats or hearty soups.

Fennel is native to Mediterranean areas, but in modern times grows all over the world, both wild and cultivated. Found often in greek mythology, fennel was noted in reference to food and wine, and was thought to be the conduit between the gods and men.

There are many fast and easy ways to experiment with fennel. Add it to lettuce and tomato when constructing a sandwich to add some flavorful crunch. Wrap salmon in parchment paper along with julienned carrots and fennel and a splash of white wine, then bake for 20 minutes or until the fish reaches desired doneness. Saute with onions and garlic for a simple side dish. Toss with fresh fruit to add fragrant crunch to a fruit salad. Add fennel to raw mixed vegetables, toss with olive oil and roast till veggies are tender.

If you’re not one to experiment follow one of the recipes provided by local chefs!

Armando Navarro, Larkspur’s executive chef, claims fennel is one of the unsung heroes of the kitchen.

“Fresh fennel is available all winter long, and we use it in salads for a crisp, crunchy element,” he said. “It also lends a unique flavor when roasted in the pan with meats and brings a delicious aroma to soups.”

Avondale’s Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson, agrees. “Fennel is one of our staples all year long. The flavor is subtle and not easily recognized. We top our braised pork osso bucco with pickled fennel for a tangy contrast to the rich sauce.”

1 large bulb fennel, sliced

1 cup water

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

3 sprigs thyme

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon white pepper corns

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup minced onion

Place all ingredients except the fennel in a medium saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 3 to 5 minutes to blend flavors. Place sliced fennel in a bowl and pour the pickling solution over the fennel. Let rest at least three hours and up to one week. Use as a complement to rich braised meats.

1 fennel root bulb, thinly sliced

2 McIntosh apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 orange, peeled and cut into supremes

1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Bibb lettuce

Chopped fennel leaves for garnish

Combine sliced fennel, apples and oranges together in a bowl. Mix fresh orange juice with olive oil and toss with ingredients in bowl. Place bibb lettuce on each of four salad plates. Spoon fennel mixture on top. Garnish with fresh fennel.

Serves 4.

Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.

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