Fennel is beginning to appear at the farmers market. It is unlike that in the supermarkets. The bulbs are big, and the tops are left on so that you may have four feet of vegetable, including the fronds.
I think fennel is beautiful. The fronds are lacy and brilliant green. The bulbs have the interlocked leaf bases that remind me of a nautilus shell. The perfume is that exotic, unforgettable odor, not quite of licorice or anise, but wonderful. And it’s all edible.
When I bought my farmers market fennel, the woman behind me wondered aloud what you can do with it. The vendor said that she puts it in salads. I said, “Braise it’,” thinking of quartered bulb braised with a juicy pork chop. But you can turn both bulb and fronds into soup, a boiled vegetable, and even a desert.
The large-bulbed (not actually a bulb but the thickened ends of the stems of the fronds) variety is sometimes called Florence fennel or finocchio to distinguish it from common fennel that has no bulb and grows wild in abundance in Northern California. In the past, I’ve written about using the “pollen” from wild fennel to flavor bread, as they do at Rich Table, or to add to soups and custards.
I also bought some haricots verts from one of my favorite vendors at the market. I like his products because he has fingerling potatoes in several colors, squash blossoms, petit pan squash, and heirloom tomatoes that are not as popular with other vendors. That made me think that a fresh salad of fennel and haricot vert would be a perfect summer accompaniment to seared ahi tuna.
Shaved Fennel and Haricot Vert Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (Use your best stuff)
- ½ teaspoon Pernod
- salt and pepper
- good pinch of sugar
- 1 good-sized fennel bulb, trimmed and washed
- haricots verts (about two good handfuls), trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
- lettuce leaves
- Using a dinner fork or small whisk, combine the lemon juice and mustard in a two-cup glass measuring cup
- Beating vigorously, gradually add the olive oil, one tablespoonful at a time, making sure it is completely incorporated.
- Beat in the Pernod, salt and pepper to taste, and sugar. Set aside.
- Using a mandolin, slice the fennel bulb into paper-thin slices.
- Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to the boil. Stir in the trimmed green beans and return to the boil. Boil for 3 minutes after the pot has returned to the boil. Drain and plunge the cooked beans into a bowl of ice and water that you have prepared ahead.
- When the beans have cooled, drain and combine with the shaved fennel. Dress with the vinaigrette, toss, and cover with plastic wrap. Reserve any remaining vinaigrette for another use. Refrigerate for 2 hours until ready to serve on lettuce leaves.