Walk into some wonderful old Italian restaurant and you might be greeted by a table of antipasti — the plural of antipasto, which means “before the meal” — complete with sliced meats, cheeses, fish perhaps, and, my favorite, vegetables in olive oil. It’s hard not to make a meal of them alone. Florence fennel, either raw or cooked, makes a great antipasto. In this recipe, it’s thinly sliced and sautéed to caramelize its natural sugars. This gentle browning emphasizes the beautiful layered structure of the bulb.
• 4 fennel bulbs, 3 to 4 inches across
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
• Coarse sea salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 small bunch of fennel fronds (for garnish)
1. Scrub and trim the fennel bulbs, leaving enough of the bases to keep the slices intact. Stand the bulbs up and slice them lengthwise to make fan-shaped pieces no more than 1/4-inch thick.
2. Heat the olive oil and garlic in a medium-sized skillet until fragrant. Add the fennel slices carefully in a single layer, with none touching. Over low to medium heat, sauté them for about 5 minutes or until they’re golden-brown, moving them around in the pan so they color evenly. This will require your full attention. Flip them and brown the other side. Remove carefully with a spatula and drain on paper towels, leaving the garlic behind. Pound the fennel seeds, if using, with a mallet on a cutting board, then toast over low heat in a small, dry skillet, just long enough to release their flavor.
3. Arrange the fennel slices on a warm plate and scatter the seeds, salt and pepper over them. Garnish with the tips of the fennel fronds. Serve warm or at room temperature.
More Recipes with Fennel and Scallions
Garden writer Barbara Damrosch grows fennel, scallions and much more with her husband, Eliot Coleman, at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. Find even more seasonal, simple recipes in her latest book, The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.