So What Do You Do with Fennel Leaves?

by Alifair Skebe

At The Delmar Farmers’ Market yesterday, Farmer DJ and a customer were talking over the colorful mounds of vegetables at his and Farmer John’s stand. The contention was fennel: what is it? how do you cook it, and then, the point at which my ears perked up: “So what do you do with the leaves?”

Fennel, classic to French cooking and also known as anise, comes from the parsley family and has a taste similar to licorice or tarragon. The entire plant can be used in both cooking and herbal medicine, and the leaves or fronds are particularly aromatic and delicate in texture and flavor. So, I got myself some fennel from DJ and took to the kitchen that night. In this article, you will see two variations on fennel fronds’ use: one with cheese and another a classic fish dish using salmon from “fin.”

The Risotto

A summer risotto with fennel fronds

All risottos use the same method of slow cooking Arborio rice, a highly absorbent rice from Italy, adding a dense stock and white or light red wine, and finishing with a flavorful cheese to create a rich, creamy texture. Because Arborio rice is imported and very fine, it can be costly. This recipe substitutes half of the Arborio rice for pearled barley, which has a similar texture and absorbency. Other ingredients can be grown in your garden and found in a local farmer’s market or specialty foods shop.

In this recipe, the vegetables garlic scapes, spring onion, and snap peas are balanced with the herbs and spices fennel frond and French paprika so as not to overpower the delightful taste of the washed rind cheese used.

Garlic Scape, Snap Pea, Fennel, and “Maggie’s Round” Risotto

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 garlic scapes
  • 1 small onion
  • splash of Banyuls vinegar
  • 1 cp Arborio rice
  • 1 cp pearled barley
  • 1 qt stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1 cp Pino Grigio wine
  • 1 cp fresh snap peas
  • ¼ cp fennel fronds
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp French paprika
  • 2 oz. Maggie’s Round, Pawlette, and/or Berleberg diced

Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. Heat stock in a separate pan and keep covered on low heat. Cut scapes and onion into butter and sauté until onions are semi-transparent. Add a splash of Banyuls (or similar light wine or rice vinegar). Add rice and barley and sauté in the butter for 1-2 minutes. Begin to add the warm stock, one cup at a time as the rice adsorbs the liquid. Stir often. When the rice and barley begin to plump, add paprika and salt, snap peas and fennel fronds. Add wine. Finish with your choice of cheeses mentioned. Stir until the cheese melts evenly throughout the risotto. The risotto will be done when the rice has taken in all the flavor and is al dente. The risotto will look creamy and generously wet around the rice and barley, neither dry nor runny. Pepper and salt to taste.

Fennel Salmon with Collards and Kale

Fennel fronds and thick greens make a wonderful base for cooking fish, and the flavor of fennel pairs particularly well with salmon. This recipe steams the fish over a bed of greens, and the fish soaks up the flavors as the steam rises.

  • 1-1/2 lbs fresh salmon
  • 2cps fennel fronds coarsely chopped
  • 4 large collard leaves cut in thick strips
  • 4 Red Russian kale leaves coarsely chopped
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • a splash of Banyuls vinegar
  • a drizzle of A L’Olivier Herbes des Provence olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Use a dutch oven or similarly large, heavy pot with lid on the stove top. Heat the pot to medium to low. Line the bottom of the pot with the cut fennel fronds, collards, and kale. Gently place the salmon on top of the greens. Juice the ½ lemon on the salmon. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to moisten the salmon and greens. As the salmon steams, the oil will release into the greens and the greens will protect the salmon from burning. Add a splash of Banyuls vinegar and drizzle of Herbes des Provence olive oil. Let cook until the fish is pink and flakes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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