Do your kids love Red Vines or Good and Plenty’s? Believe it or not, there is a vegetable out there that tastes similar to these popular movie theater candies! It’s readily available and easy to cook with – Fennel. You may have seen fennel in the store and think “what the heck am I gonna do with that?” Its appearance can be intimidating, but it is actually very easy to incorporate into your family’s favorite dishes.
Fennel is composed of a bulb that is usually pale green or white with stalks attached that have feathery green leaves. Every part of fennel can be used in cooking. When buying fennel, you should look for bulbs that are firm and free of bruising. Once you’ve gotten the alien-looking vegetable home, it is best to store in your vegetable drawer. Fennel should last about a week before it starts to wilt. Some healthy properties of fennel are that is high in Vitamin C and fiber. Fennel is also a good source of potassium which helps lower cholesterol.
The raw flavor of fennel is similar to licorice or anise and can be quite bitter when eaten raw. However when fennel is cooked, it becomes slightly sweet and adds great texture to any dish. Fennel is usually associated with Mediterranean or Italian cuisine, but it pairs well with fish, citrus and is great in salads. When using fennel, you want to cut the stalks off the bulb and save some of those beautiful feathery green leaves to incorporate into your dish. The stalks can be used, but really need to be cooked down for a long time before they become tender. Most recipes will call for just the fennel bulb. The fennel bulb has a core inside that needs to be cut out. Simply cut the bulb in half through the core and then in half again. At an angle, cut the core out of the halves. You can then slice thin like an onion.
For this week’s recipe, I chose a great dish to introduce fennel. It’s a real comfort food dish and will easily feed a crowd. Hiding healthy ingredients in something your family already loves is a great way to introduce something new, which is what I have done here. This dish has always been a big hit with all of my clients, even the pickiest ones. I usually serve with a salad and some garlic bread. Bon Appetit!
1 onion sliced thin
2 heads of fennel sliced thin with a few tops for garnish
2 cloves garlic
2 T olive oil
½ jar sundried tomatoes packed in oil sliced
2 T fresh basil chiffonade
2 T fresh oregano
1 ½ lb ground bison or beef
3 links mild Italian sausage casings removed
1 package penne pasta
1 jar marinara sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute onion, fennel and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Saute on low to medium low until soft(about 15 minutes). Add sundried tomatoes, basil, and oregano until fragrant. In a separate pan, sauté both meats and set aside. Cook pasta according to directions. In a large bowl combine cooked pasta, marinara sauce, both meats and onion-fennel mixture. Layer half the mixture in a 9×13 pan. Spread all three cheeses over mixture and repeat ending with a good layer of parmesan cheese on top. Sprinkle fennel tops over cheese. Cover with wax paper first to prevent cheese from sticking and then foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and wax paper. Turn oven to broil and broil until cheese gets brown and bubbly.
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