Friday, March 27, 2009

Fun with Fennel

Why didn’t someone tell me fennel is the rabbit of the herb world?

I bought a scraggly little fennel plant three years ago and placed it in a shallow clay pot, but it never did well.

Last year, when it looked like it was a goner for sure, I took pity and transplanted it into a large terra cotta pot in my herb garden. It immediately took root, shouting, “I’m going to live!”

I was thrilled to see feathery plumes that danced gracefully in the wind, followed by big, yellow umbrella heads that hold the tiny, licorice-flavored seeds often found on pizzas. I never got around to harvesting it because I was waiting for the bulb to get big enough to try some roasted fennel and fennel soup.

This year, after I cleared the fallen oak and pecan leaves around the old brick sidewalk, I found dozens of sassy little fennel plants, happily anchored everywhere the wind took the bazillion seeds the mother plant produced. Reading up on fennel, I learned that, yes, indeed, they multiply wantonly, like so many March hares.

After the good rain we had recently, I figured it might be better to pull the whole bulb and root up, rather than cut it back and risk another fennel explosion.
Fat chance. It wouldn’t budge.

Now, I’m worried that the roots are so deep that I’ll crack the container if I tug too hard.

Any fennel growers out there with suggestions?

Simple Fennel Soup
1/4 cup butter
5 fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
1 (32 fluid ounce) container vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add quartered fennel bulbs; cook, stirring often, until golden brown (about 10 minutes).
Add broth and simmer until fennel is tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with finely chopped fennel leaves.

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