Ingredient of the Week: Fennel

Fennel could be considered a secret ingredient for a good cook. Not long ago it was just one of those vegetables in the produce section that most people passed by because they didn't know what it was.

Thankfully it's getting more popular, so fennel can be easily found in almost any grocery store, and the price is somewhat reasonable. OK - it's not reasonable, but maybe it's close to fair - about $2-3 for a large bulb / stalk - considering how wonderful an ingredient it is.

Why is fennel so useful? Because it can be used as an aromatic like onion to add another complementary flavor into a dish, but it can also stand alone as a raw or cooked vegetable.

How to use it? Well, in many sauces or vegetable dishes that call for chopped onion, you can substitute one-third or more of the onion then chopped fennel. My favorite way is to just cook half fennel, half onion in olive oil over medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes until they are sweet and brown. Add some S&P, a shake of dried red pepper flakes and a sprinkling of fennel seed part way through. This makes a delicious topping for homemade pizzas, burgers, or even placed atop a peppery water cracker as an appetizer.

Cutting fennel is easy. Chop off the very end of the bulb. Then cut the bulb/frond right where the white part turns to green. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise, then slice the halves thinly. You can chop the fronds, which look like fresh dill, but are not, and use them as you would use fresh dill. The green "celery-like" parts are good to throw into a stock, but generally aren't too good eaten alone.

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