I’ve been on a bit of a fennel kick lately: not that I would ever consider the dreaded “D” word, but it’s nice to have something crisp and fresh and sweet yet mildly grassy after the excesses of the holidays.
Fennel is pretty amazing in that every part of the plant is edible: bulb, stalks, fronds, seeds and pollen; and while they all have that distinctive licorice-y flavor, each part of the plant tastes subtly different, and the overall flavor is so much more than just licorice. (Not that licorice is a bad thing. I’ve been a devoted black jellybean trader since I was old enough to lisp “Eathter bathket!”). One problem with fennel, however, is that bulb use tends to outpace stalks & frond use by a wide margin: there are so many more of them, you see. After all, there are only so many grain salads a girl can eat in any one week. (Cue “That’s because grain is evil and WILL KILL US ALL” comments in 3…. 2…. 1…..).
Nevertheless, the amazing fennel is quite versatile and easily able to dance over the line between sweet and savory any time it likes. So, for you today, a couple of easy preserves, one sweet, one savory: candied fennel stalks & fennel frond salt. The candied fennel stalks are as easy as preserving gets: chop stalks, steep in simple syrup, drain, dry, toss in sugar. Yield delicious, subtly sweet and licorice-y snack that will be gone before you know it. There are two ways to go on the fennel salt: either grind the fronds fresh with the salt, which produces a bright green salt and an almost powdered frond, or dry the fronds first in a low oven, then grind. They both produce a quite subtle fennel flavor infused into the salt, but I think I prefer the dried version; paradoxically, drying the fronds first seems to preserve a bit more fennel flavor. But they’ll both have their uses, I’m sure. Once I get done eating all the candied fennel, that is.
- ½ cup sugar (organic evaporated cane juice) + extra for tossing
- ½ cup water
- 1 heaping cup fennel stalks, trimmed of fronds and sliced on the bias to ¼-inch
- In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat, swirling until sugar dissolves. Raise heat and boil, without stirring, until liquid is thickened and syrupy, about 5 – 10 minutes. Add fennel. Stir to coat all pieces. Bring back to a boil, then remove pan from heat.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Allow fennel to steep for at least 15 minutes, then strain away syrup (reserve for another use). Spread candied fennel in a single layer on a baking sheet. Turn off oven, then put the candied fennel in the warm oven to dry overnight. If desired, you can repeat the process with the remaining simple syrup using another ½ cup of chopped fennel stalk.
- Once dry (tacky, but not overly sticky, to the touch), sprinkle with a bit of sugar, then scrape the candied fennel off of the baking sheet with a thin spatula. Add to a bowl large enough to toss the fennel, then toss with a fork, adding sugar as necessary to coat fennel and prevent sticking.
Yields about ¾ cup candied fennel.
- feathery fronds from 1 large fennel bulb, washed and shaken dry
- about 1 cup salt, a mixture of coarse, fine and flaky types
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Remove as much thin stalk as possible from the fennel fronds. Coarsely chop and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Turn off the oven, then place fennel fronds in the warm oven to dry and crisp a bit, about 30 minutes.
- In a mortar & pestle, crush dried fennel fronds with a handful of coarse salt, grinding to break up the fronds. Add different types of salt as you grind, but save flaky sea salt to add at the end. Depending on the size of your mortar, you may have to do this in a couple of batches. If the salt seems wet after grinding, dry it out in a low oven for 15 minutes or so before storing. Add as little or as much salt as you like: judge by eye & taste.
Yields about 1 cup fennel salt.
- Use leftover fennel-infused simple syrup in tea, coffee, over pancakes, or to make a kick-ass martini or margarita. Once you’ve eaten all of the candied fennel, same goes for the fennel-infused sugar at the bottom of the jar, although you could also use it to sprinkle on top of fennel-sugar cookies or fennel scones.
- Fennel goes beautifully with citrus: some lemon or orange zest added to the fennel salt would be lovely.
- Don’t have time to grind, grind, grind away at some fennel salt? Pop those fronds into a bottle of vodka to make your own absinthe/pastis-esque tipple. Sip slowly over ice while pretending you are in sunny, sunny Barcelona.
Store candied fennel and fennel salt in airtight containers at room temperature. Candied fennel will last several weeks, salt indefinitely.
Fall through spring.