Fennel into fall

Who would have thought she’d leave so gently? Summer is sashaying away, the flirt, giving us a wink over her shoulder. It looks like we’ll step over Fall’s threshold tomorrow with the strings of our sunhats still caught in her screen door.

With our faces still lifted to the sky (sometimes, that morning mist has been stubborn) it’s a good time to talk about fennel. After all, Prometheus used a stalk of it to steal fire from the sun. Just like us: skimming along on some contraband rays.

Soon every day will be like it was on Monday. I was indulging in a rare five-hour writing day. It was a good, overcast day for something like that. When I shuffled into the kitchen around noon, I was pleased to see that it was sunny outside. Really sunny. So I thought I’d take a bona fide lunch break and eat out on the deck before heading back up to my desk.

Silly me. Fall is fickle and will have none of my plans. By the time the peach and zucchini were sliced and the hummus in a dish, the sun had gone back behind the clouds. Ah, well.

The change of season doesn’t have to be accompanied by a sigh of regret (though this year, for some reason it’s harder for me than usual). We get to engage in those swooning sorts of sighs that come with the discovery of a new apple variety or the first winter squash of the season. Baskets of Washington-grown apples, from this year, are starting to appear at the food co-op. Soon I’ll get to pick our neighbor’s apples and turn them into sauce. And I’m already testing pears at the market, trying to gauge how many days it will be until they’re perfectly ripe.

But fruits aren’t the only new arrivals. There are crates of quiet, helpful vegetables on display. The staples. Potatoes, onions, garlic. And these layered, elliptical roots that are making their way into my kitchen more and more every year. These fire scepter anchors.

Fennel bulbs.

A few years ago, when I started receiving them in our weekly box, I didn’t really know what to do. I’m not a big fan of anise, and fennel’s flavor, though milder, is in the same family. I fretted over them as they grew rubbery in the bottom drawer of the fridge then shrugged my guilty shoulders as I slipped the too-far-gone ones into the compost bin.

Then I read that you can think of your fennel bulb as a substitute for an onion. Da-ding!

Now I look forward to having them around so I can slice and sauté them with garlic for a soup base. It gives the soup a faint licorice undertone that’s more comforting than I thought it would be.

Chie tells me she likes them best grated or sliced raw, which is how you’ll find them in this lovely salad.

It may be the beginning of fall, but we don’t have to give up on fresh local salads just yet.

Late Summer Salad
by Chie

This sweet, fragrant root adds a nice touch to so many dishes. It can be roasted, braised, grilled, sliced or
grated raw into salads or stewed in soups. Here is a light and simple salad that brings out each flavor:
nutty arugula, fragrant and crunchy fennel, juicy pear.

 1-2 bunches arugula, washed, dried and stemmed
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 pear (Bartlet, Star Crimson, Orca, Comice), sliced thin
Pecorino Romano, shaved
1-2 lemons
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Toss the arugula and fennel in a medium bowl with the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Arrange on salad plates.

Slice pears and arrange on top of the greens and fennel. For extra flair, grill pear halves and slice before adding.
When choosing pears, make sure they’re soft when gentle pressure is applied.
Try Star Krimson and Bartlet. Both are grown by Brownfield Orchards and are available at the Co-op.

Add a few slices of shaved Pecorino to each plate and indulge.