Whenever I get a bulb of fennel in my CSA box, I struggle with ideas for using the fennel in ways that showcase the fennel other than a simple arugula and fennel salad with lemon and parmesan. And I always try to come up with uses for fennel fronds. Fennel is in season from autumn through early spring is an excellent source of Vitamin C for the winter months as well as fiber, folate and potassium.
It seems that I just love fennel in salads, like this shiitake and fennel farro salad with parsley oil, in shaved carrot, radish and fennel quinoa with lemon and in a wonderful antipasti of grilled zucchini, fennel, cherry tomatoes and cannellini beans. But those are all things I crave in the spring or summer, not in the winter.
Sometimes grocery stores sell fennel bulbs with the stalks and leaves chopped off, but usually the fennel bulb comes attached to long stalks topped with feathery leaves, called fennel fronds. I never knew what to do with the fennel fronds; my instinct told me to throw them into a vegetable stock but the flavor of fennel is far too strong and overpowering for most stock uses.
After spending much time wondering what to do with fennel fronds, I have come up with the following uses for fennel fronds. Usually I end up using fennel fronds as I would use dill, mixed with yogurt and garlic for a refreshing dipping sauce, or as a garnish for a dish, like roasted golden beets. I don't eat fish, but I've heard that roasting a fish over a bed of fennel fronds is simply wonderful.
I have also used fennel fronds in a "feta salsa verde". If the words "salsa verde" make you think of a green tomatillo salsa, you are not alone. I, too, was once confused but learned from Suzanne Goin that "salsa verde" can also mean a green sauce made of herbs- usually parsley and other herbs, lemon and olive oil, with unmistakeable Mediterranean flavors. Simply chop fennel fronds and parsley, toss with lemon zest, garlic and sea salt, coarsely pulse with olive oil and lemon juice and mix in crumbled French feta. It makes a wonderful sauce for topping cannellini bean crostini or fish.
In my search for vegetarian main dishes starring fennel, I came across a wonderful recipe in Bon Appétit for an artichoke and fennel ravioli in a beautiful tomato fennel sauce. It is so festive and perfect for the holidays! The ravioli filling is a blend of fennel seeds, garlic, diced fennel bulb, artichoke hearts and fennel fronds. The recipe calls for frozen artichoke hearts but I used a can of artichoke hearts in water from Whole Foods.
And the tomato fennel sauce, oh my, the tomato fennel sauce has garlic, fennel seeds, diced fennel, san marzano tomatoes, crushed red pepper, oregano and ground cloves. Such an elegant, holiday-appropriate vegetarian dish!
For a perfect first course for a dinner party, spoon the tomato fennel sauce on to an appetizer plate and top with artichoke fennel ravioli. Garnish with fennel fronds and a grind or two of cracked black pepper.
To make the wonton ravioli, cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter and brush with egg white.
Place 1 tsp of filling in center. Fold into a halfmoon and press firmly to push out any air.
I had some of the tomato fennel sauce leftover so the next day I toasted a crusty slice of bread and topped it with cannellini beans sauteed with tomato fennel sauce.
For the Artichoke and Fennel Ravioli with Tomato Fennel Sauce recipe, see Bon Appétit