Last weekend, Casey and I presented a demo at the New York Botanical Garden’s Edible Garden series. Unlike last time, where we took the week’s theme of garlic and onions and added eggs, cheese, and bacon, we kept it healthy and fresh with fennel this time around.
Fennel is a perennial, so it grows all year and a wintertime supermarket version will still taste pretty good. Around these parts, it’s best enjoyed from August through late October. Fennel originated in the Southern Mediterranean and can be found in recipes in ancient Greece and Rome.
In the Middle Ages, it was used for a variety of medicinal purposes and was important in warding off “flying venom,” which was believed to be a major cause of disease. However, fennel also shows up in recipes throughout the medieval world, as all parts including the seeds (technically fruits) are edible.
Our main dish was one I dubbed “Gladiator Salad” because of its Roman origins. It’s a simple mixture of thinly sliced fennel, oranges, olive oil, salt, and pepper that hearkens back to ancient Rome, when legionaries on the march would carry a bulb of fennel and an orange in their packs, needing little more to prepare a salad than a knife. For our modern take on it (which includes a red onion), we showed off a few more sophisticated techniques. Well, Casey did.
While preparing for the demo, I sent Casey an email with the recipe and she wrote back, “Are we supreming the oranges?”
“What the heck does it mean to supreme an orange?” I said aloud to myself. Fortunately, I had the good sense to Google it before asking. Soon I found that it was pronounced “SOO-prehm” and is a simple process of removing the skin and pith and segmenting the oranges. And I learned how to actually do it along with the audience.
Casey also demo-ed the mandoline, a tool I only pull out when I’m making potato chips that absolutely need to be paper thin. Ingeniously, she showed us how she uses an oyster glove as a protective measure against the mandoline’s dangerously sharp blade, eschewing that awful slicing handle that leaves behind way too much of the veggie.
We turned the frizzy fennel fronds into a beautiful pesto, which we later spread on crackers so that everyone in the audience was able to have a taste. I heard at least half a dozen people comment that though they weren’t fans of fennel because of the black licorice notes, they loved this pesto.
If you fall into the camp of black jelly bean haters [Casey: blegh.] [Danielle: give them to me!], you may still fall in love with fennel fronds. Not to mention you’ll keep yourself safe from any “flying venom” this fall and winter.
Roman Gladiator Salad
Total time: 15 minutes
Makes 4-6 servings
- 4 navel oranges
- 2 medium size fennel bulbs
- 1 small red onion
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- freshly ground salt and pepper
With a paring knife, remove the peel and white pith from the oranges. Hold the peeled orange over a large bowl and cut between each “rib” of the orange to remove the sweet segment of fruit, allowing the segment and any juice to fall into the bowl.
Cut the fronds and the root end off the fennel bulb (save the fronds and compost the root end). Cut the bulb in half lengthwise and safely use a mandoline to make paper-thin slices.
Cut the red onion in half lengthwise, peel, and cut off both root and tip ends. Make paper-thin slices of the onion on the mandoline as well.
Toss the sliced fennel and onion with the orange segments and juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
adapted from melissaclark.net
Total time: 10 minutes
Makes 1 1/2 cups
- leftover fennel fronds from 2 fennel bulbs
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Coarsely chop enough fennel fronds to measure 2 cups (and compost the rest). Add the fronds, garlic, nuts, salt, and pepper to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Add the cheese, then drizzle the oil through the tube of the food processor while the machine is running until the mixture becomes smooth and paste-like. Season with additional pepper and/or salt to taste.
Note: pesto freezes well in Tupperware containers!