Fennel is one of those herbs that has always been used in my kitchen on a fairly regular basis. I toss the seeds into spice mixes or masalas where it helps build gorgeous flavor for curries, although it also loses its individual flair. But I was a stranger to the delicious fennel bulb with its frizzy, feathery, bright-green fronds until I moved here to the United States.
To anyone who has not eaten fennel, this is a flavor to die for. I especially like roasting fennel – both the seeds and the bulbs– because that’s when its deliciously licorice-y flavor mellows into rich sweetness. Heaven for the tastebuds.
Apart from its wonderful flavor, fennel is also prized for its digestive properties. In India, it is common practice to chew on fennel seeds after a heavy meal because not only does it help digest the food but it also freshens the breath. If you’ve been to an Indian restaurant here in the United States, you’ve seen those little dishes with fennel seeds right next to the toothpicks as you make your way out. Now you know why they’re there.
Today, I wanted to share with you two recipes I made over the last week, both featuring different parts of the versatile fennel. The first recipe is for Fennel-Crusted Potatoes, a go-to recipe for rushed weeknights when I want a quick side dish without the effort of standing over a skillet and stirring and mixing. I let the toaster oven do most of the work for me here.
The second recipe is also an excellent one for weeknights: the fennel pesto is made with the green leaves/fronds that sprout from the fennel bulb, and the bulb goes into the toaster oven (along with some onions and red peppers and a dash of balsamic vinegar). Everything gets mixed up with some walnuts and some ear-shaped, whole-wheat pasta and bam! You have a dish you couldn’t be prouder of in less time than you can learn to pronounce “orecchiette.”
Here are the recipes. Enjoy, all!
- 1/2 pound whole-wheat pasta (you can use any small-shaped pasta here, including penne or even macaroni or orzo. I used orecchiette which is one of my favorite pastas). Cook according to package directions and drain.
- For the roasted vegetables:
- 1 fennel bulb , cut out the leaves and set aside for the pesto.
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 sweet onion
- Dice all the vegetables into 1-inch chunks and place in a baking dish. Add:
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- Roast the vegetables in a 400-degree oven , stirring a couple of times during cooking, until they are fork-tender and coated with a balsamic glaze. This took me about 35 minutes.
- For the pesto:
- Leaves reserved from the fennel bulb , chopped into smaller pieces
- 2 cloves of garlic , chopped
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional, but great both nutritionally and for that cheesy flavor)
- 1/4 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor (except the olive oil) and process until coarsely powdered. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil until you have an even paste.
- Place the pasta, roasted veggies and the pesto in a bowl. Add:
- /4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts.
- Mix well and serve immediately.
- (Tip: For an even more fennel-y flavor, add 1 tsp lightly toasted fennel seeds to the pesto)
- Place all the ingredients in a baking dish and toss together to coat all the potatoes.
- Bake in a 400-degree oven about 30-40 minutes or until nicely golden-brown and tender when pierced with a fork (stir halfway if desired).
(Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 143, Fat 2.4 grams, Cholesterol 0 mg, Dietary Fiber 3.5 grams, Protein 3.2 grams, Vitamin C 52.5 percent)
Hungry for more?
Roasted Potatoes With Cilantro and Lemon
Whole-Wheat Gnocchi With Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Pappardelle Pasta With Green Peppers And Asparagus Frittata
Peppery Mushroom-Potato Stir-Fry