Tag Archives: fennel

Cream of Fennel Soup with Basil & Parmigiano

This soup is one of my favorite ways to enjoy fennel: creamy in texture, gentle in flavor, and delicately colored, it owes its surprising depth to the enriching action of the Parmigiano rind that simmers along with the fennel. If you don’t have a Parmigiano rind on hand, add a splash of heavy cream after pureeing the soup.

Serves 2

  • 1 large head fennel
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 1 Parmigiano rind
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Trim the fennel. Cut the fennel into 4 wedges, discard the tough core from each wedge, and slice very thinly. Reserve about 1 tablespoon of the leafy, wispy fronds for the garnish.

Place the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and add the shallot, garlic, and fennel seeds. Set over medium-low heat; cover. Cook until the shallot is lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Add the thinly sliced fennel, season with the salt and pepper, and cover again.

Cook 15 minutes, or until the fennel is soft, stirring once in a while. Add the water and milk, and drop in the Parmigiano rind, making sure the rind is fully submerged in the liquid. Bring to a gentle boil and lower the heat to a simmer; cook, covered, 30 minutes, or until the flavors have melded and the fennel is very tender. Watch that the soup does not boil, or the milk will curdle. Discard the rind.

Transfer carefully to a food processor and puree until perfectly smooth. Return to the pot and warm to just below a boil. Cook, uncovered, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon; if the soup is too thick, add a little more milk or water as needed. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot, garnished with the basil and the fennel fronds.


Mom’s Roasted Fennel with Parmigiano

I grew up eating my mom’s roasted fennel and loving it; but when I tried to make it on my own, after I moved out of my parents’ home, I just couldn’t get it to taste anywhere near as good as my mom’s. The trick: boiling the fennel before roasting it. If you skip the boiling step, the fennel will come out stringy and fibrous rather than sweet and caramelized.

I always make more than I need of this just so I can enjoy leftovers; you can chop up any extra  fennel and warm it again as a sauce for pasta, or throw it on slices of focaccia topped with Mozzarella or Fontina and bake until the bread is crispy; or stir into beaten eggs with a splash of cream for a heavenly frittata.

Serves 4

  • 3 fennel bulbs
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup (28 grams or 1 ounce) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 325°F (preferably set on convection ).

Rinse the fennel bulbs and cut the tops off each; reserve the feathery fronds to garnish salads or soups, and the stalks for stocks or as a base for roasting fish or lamb. Cut off about 1/4 inch at the bottom of each bulb. Quarter each fennel and cut out the fibrous triangular core from each quarter. Slice each quarter thickly.


fennelsliceRinse the sliced fennel under running water to eliminate any remaining grit from between the layers.


Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Drop in the fennel and add 1 tablespoon of the salt; cover and cook over medium heat  for 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Drain, rinse under cool water, and drain again.

Place on 2 large baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with the olive oil, and season with the remaining teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano and then spread out on the baking sheets so the fennel is in a single layer if possible. Sprinkle the top with the  remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano.


Roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top and lightly crisp around the edges, stirring once in a while to promote even browning. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Serve hot.

Bucatini with Fresh Sardines, Saffron, and Wild Fennel

There are countless variations on this pasta: some call for a bit of tomato to be added instead of saffron; others suggest warming the pasta in the oven after layering it with the sauce; still others call for a dusting of toasted bread crumbs flavored with anchovies. The recipe below includes saffron, pine nuts, wild fennel, and raisins, and the flavor balance is just slightly sweet. This is a sauce that requires a bit of time and patience, but it is one of the pinnacles of Sicilian cuisine and deserves every bit of its fame.

Ingredient notes: Wild fennel can be very hard to find; in Sicily it grows wild, but you may have to substitute the tops and fronds of fennel bulbs. I like to add a bit of ground fennel seeds along with the fennel fronds to better mimic the wild fennel flavor.

Fresh Sardine and Wild Fennel Sauce (Sicily)

 Serves 4

For the sauce:

  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • 1 and ½ pounds fresh sardines
  • 1 and ¼  teaspoons salt
  • 10 ounces wild fennel, or tops and feathery fronds from fennel bulbs, minced
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 large yellow onion, very thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground or crushed fennel seeds
  • 2 salted anchovies, boned, gutted, and rinsed, or 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
  • ½ teaspoon saffron pistils
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 pound bucatini

Make the sauce: Soak the raisins in cool water to cover for 15 minutes; drain and blot dry.

Rinse the sardines. Remove the heads, open them like a book, and remove the innards and bones. Rinse again and blot dry. If possible, try to keep the two filets attached. Select half of the sardines and set aside; these should be the best-looking ones, as they will be fried whole and placed atop the dish when serving.

Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the wild fennel and cook 2 minutes, or until soft. Drain, reserving the wild fennel cooking water to cook the pasta later.

In a deep saucepan large enough to accommodate both the sardines and the pasta later, heat ¼ cup of olive oil until shimmering over medium-high heat. Dredge the  sardines you set aside in the flour, shaking off the excess, and fry until they are golden on both sides and cooked through, about 3 minutes total. Blot dry on paper towels.  Season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and set aside.  Clean the saucepan and dry it.

Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the clean saucepan. Add the onion and ground fennel seeds, and sauté over a medium flame until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the less perfect sardines and cook, stirring and breaking them up with a spoon, about 3 minutes. Add the anchovies and cook until they melt into the sauce, about 2 minutes. Stir in the drained and boiled wild fennel, the saffron, drained raisins, and pine nuts, and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Cover and cook 2 minutes; adjust the seasoning and keep warm on a very low heat.

Make the pasta: Return the wild fennel cooking water to a boil. Add the salt and the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.

Stir the pasta into the sauce and sauté 1 minute to meld the flavors. Adjust the seasoning as needed and dilute if necessary with some of the reserved cooking water. Serve hot, topped with the fried sardines.

Micol Negrin