Some time ago, I mentioned finocchio as one of the elements of a traditional Italian appetizer called verdure in pinzimonio, which includes a selection of raw vegetables (carrots, celery, fennel, radishes, etc.) to be dipped into a sauce made of olive oil, salt and pepper, and possibly vinegar or lemon juice. Each guest gets his or her own small plate of sauce.
Growing up, I ate fennel salad often, the bulb cut into bite-size pieces and seasoned with the usual combination of oil, vinegar and salt. You can slice the fennel thinly instead: I like the bite-size version, because each morsel causes a little explosion of flavor in your mouth. Sometimes my mother would serve fennel cut vertically into 6 or 8 sections at the end of a meal, to be eaten plain: its crisp flavor is quite refreshing. I didn't know that finocchio is called Florence fennel here.
Until recently, my favorite way of eating cooked fennel was au gratin. Then, to the old preference a new one was added: Fennel and Leek Soup with Fennel Greens (zuppa di finocchi e porri con foglie di finocchio) a dish that has become an instant hit in the household. The recipe comes from my beloved Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. In it, Madison suggests to use the trimmings from its ingredients to make Quick (vegetable) Stock, something I recommend doing, because the result is a deeply flavored soup that will enchant your palate. I ended up making more stock than I needed for the soup, so I froze the rest, which means I have a little stash for future use.
I followed both recipes to the letter, halving the quantity of the ingredients for the soup and substituting the cream (which in any case is optional) with some of my own cheese, freshly grated. The thinly sliced fennel and potato and the chopped leek and onion form a great quartet of flavors, with the vegetable stock providing the background and the fennel greens a tasty decoration.
This post is my contribution to the current edition of Fresh Produce of the Month, an event created by my friend Marta, An Italian in the US. You have a few days left to send your fennel-flavored ideas to Marta.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the finocchio audio file [mp3].