The second of a two-part series on ideas for using the whole fennel plant – bulb, stalks and fronds – in several complementary dishes…
We were pretending to be in Provence, on vacation. Cold fennel à la Grecque. And a platter of fennel-flecked crostini served in the raking light of late afternoon. There were crostini topped with a garlicky mash of beans that had been cooked in fennel frond broth. There were crostini with goat cheese infused with the lemony broth from the poached fennel bulbs and topped with the residual confit of lemon and onion. That was the brilliance of making fennel à la Grecque: not only were there slices of fennel bulb and tender stalks, but also the delicious aromatics and the broth.
The French phrase “à la Grecque” means “Greek-style” and refers to a way of preparing vegetables usually for an appetizer course, although I find them useful as side dishes or salads. The vegetables are lightly poached in olive oil, vinegar, lemon and white wine, and seasoned with a spice like coriander seed. Here I used fennel seed, no surprise for a full-fennel mode, and black peppercorns. I also added sliced onion and garlic. While the fennel was excellent, the lemon and onions stole the show, melting into a confit that was delicious on its own. That was partly because the lemon – peel and all – was sliced super thin and the onions were cut into little half moons. They were simmered in the warmed liquid for 15 minutes before the fennel was lightly poached. The recipe was adapted from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables but I changed the proportions of oil to liquid, cutting the oil in half and increasing the white wine. As it was, it was a little oily for my taste, but the broth made a good base for salad dressing, especially for potatoes and beans.
Fennel a la Grecque adapted from Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Vegetables
1 medium or 4 very small bulbs of fennel
½ c olive oil
¾ c white wine vinegar
½ c white wine
½ lemon, washed and thinly sliced crosswise
½ large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3 small garlic cloves, sliced
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 large bay leaf
Trim the fennel bulb(s) and reserve any tender stalks. If tiny (2½ x 3 inches or so), slice them in half lengthwise. If larger, cut them longwise into wedges.
Heat the olive oil, vinegar and wine in a saucepan. When just simmering, add the rest of the ingredients, except for the fennel, and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
Add the fennel and continue to simmer until it is tender but still slightly firm.
Remove the fennel from the liquid and let it cool. When both the fennel and the poaching liquid are cool, recombine them into a jar with a tightly fitting lid and let cure, refrigerated, for 24 hours before serving. Both the fennel and the lemon-onion confit should be used. The poaching liquid makes a great dressing for beans.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Slice a baguette into ¼-inch pieces and array them on a baking sheet. Melt a little butter with olive oil and add minced herbs and a little salt. Brush the bread on one side and bake slowly for about 10 minutes until crisp. Cool and store in an airtight container. They’ll keep for a few days.