From bulb to stalk to frond, fennel yields no waste–every part of it is edible and certainly deserves a spot on your plate. This wacky looking vegetable has a unique flavor and crisp texture.
For this recipe, the sweet, mildly licorice flavors of fennel are paired with a salty and tangy lemon sauce inspired by piccata. It’s an impressive side dish to serve at a fancy gathering or for a slow weeknight dinner. You are going to be hooked on fabulous fennel from here on out.
What Is Fennel?
You’ve definitely seen it at the grocery store or farmers market and, if you’re not familiar with it, mistakenly walked past it. Fennel is funky looking—long stalks, dill-like fronds, and a layered bulb that can make it intimidating to cook with. In my opinion, it’s one of the most underrated vegetables out there.
Fennel is one of Italy’s most popular vegetables. When raw, it boasts a crisp, mild licorice flavor with hints of celery. When cooked, the flavors magically transform into sweet, savory, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
How to Cook Fennel
This is such a simple recipe. Start by separating the three parts—the bulb, the stalk, and the fronds. The bulb gets sliced into thick wedges and caramelized in a skillet. The stalk is thinly sliced and sautéed as you would onions or celery, and the fronds are used as garnish to add brightness to the dish.
The Piccata-Inspired Sauce
My most beloved flavor combinations come from the Mediterranean: salty capers, bitter olive oil, tangy lemons, and bold garlic. Naturally, it felt right to pair fennel, native to the Mediterranean region, with a sauce inspired by the ingredients in piccata—lemon, capers, white wine, and garlic. What grows together, goes together, right?
The sauce is so delicious, it’s almost drinkable. If you love it as much as I do, try it with leeks, celery, or carrots.
What Mains to Pair It With
This wonderfully versatile vegetable pairs well with just about anything. From roasted chicken to steamed fish or a juicy grilled steak, the possibilities are endless. It would make a unique main dish for the vegetarians in your life. Also, a side of crusty garlic bread for mopping up the flavorful sauce is the best idea.
Delicious Swaps to Try
- Olive oil: Too bitter for you or ran out? Switch to something more neutral like vegetable oil.
- Capers: If these little, salted buds aren’t your thing, use pitted and chopped kalamata olives.
- Lemon: Sometimes it can be too sour for certain taste buds or maybe you don’t have one around. Use white wine vinegar.
- White wine: Use vegetable stock instead.
You Can Plan Ahead
Refrigerate each component of the fennel (picked fronds, sliced stalks, quartered bulbs) in separate airtight containers for up 1 day, so that it’s ready for you.
You can cook the fennel a day before you plan to serve it. Refrigerate it, tightly covered, and reheat it, covered, slowly in the oven at 300°F for 30 minutes, until warmed through. You could also microwave it in 1-minute intervals until warmed through.
Speak of the Fennel
Sautéed Fennel With Fennel Fronds
This recipe calls for fennel with the stalk and fronds still attached. If your grocery store sells only the trimmed bulb, don’t fret; it’s still worth making! Simply use dill and celery instead of the fennel fronds and stalk.
2 large fennel bulbs with stalk and fronds attached (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 3/4 cups white wine, like pinot grigio
Juice from 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons drained capers
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Prepare the fennel:
Cut the fennel stalk and fronds off the bulb. Wipe away any visible dirt with a damp paper towel. Peel off and discard any outer layer that looks woodsy and tough.
Slice each bulb into 4 wedges keeping the root intact and outer layer on—the root end will help keep it from falling apart.
Use your hands to pull off the fronds from the stalks. Finely chop them. Thinly slice the stalks. You should have about 1 1/4 cups.
You can keep each part of the fennel on the cutting board. The sliced stalks will be used in the sauce and the fronds will be used as garish.
Caramelize the fennel bulbs:
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the fennel bulbs, cut side down, and cook untouched until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the fennel and cook untouched until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the fennel onto a plate and set it aside.
Cook the stalks:
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, sliced fennel stalks, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper to the same skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to caramelize, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Make the sauce:
Add the wine, lemon juice, capers, and a few grinds of black pepper, and bring it to a boil. Continue to boil until the sauce is slightly reduced, 2 to 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low. Nestle the fennel bulbs back into the skillet with the outer layer facing down and touching the sauce—this layer takes the longest to cook, that is why we want to start with it down.
Simmer the fennel:
Cover the skillet and cook for 7 to 8 minutes. You do not need to stir it while it cooks. Flip the fennel bulbs over to the other side and cook for 7 to 8 minutes.
Flip the fennel one last time to the side that has not been in the sauce yet and cook until the tip a paring knife can easily pierce through to the center, 7 to 8 minutes.
Finish the sauce:
Transfer the fennel bulbs onto a plate. Increase the heat to medium heat and add the butter, stirring constantly until melted, about 1 minute. Continue cooking the sauce until reduced by half and thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.
Pour the sauce onto a serving plate. Place the fennel bulbs on top and garnish with the chopped fennel fronds. Serve hot.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 19g||24%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||34%|
|Total Carbohydrate 7g||3%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 7mg||34%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|