I give in. It’s fall. Time to switch from juicy tomatoes and ripe melons to fennel, caulifower and sweet potatoes. Fennel makes fall and winter days bearable and I love it best when roasted. If we have a bunch of people over—too many to sit at our 8-seater dining room table—I usually make several little dishes, put them all over the room and let people knock themselves out. If we’re having more than 25 people, which pushes our apartment to its limits, I’ll do a bunch of little plates and call in for pizza from Rustique or Two Boots. No one ever argues with pizza, except incredibly grumpy people who you don’t want at your party anyway.
One of the little dishes I always make is roasted fennel. The first time I made it for a crowd I thought it was a nice idea. It disappeared first and does so every time I make it, no matter how many bulbs of fennel I cut up and roast. It’s a nice party dish because you can do it early in the day. No need to reheat. Get a little obsessive (who me?) and turn and rotate the slices of fennel as you would the kale chips and every piece will be evenly bronzed and beautiful. Line them up on a white platter and you’re good to go. If you’re meaty, make room on the platter for some thinly sliced sopressata (hot or sweet). They make a nice pair. And if you remember, save some of the bright green fronds from the stalks, chop them coarsely and scatter them over the fennel just before you put it out.
Makes 6 side dish servings
2 medium bulbs fennel (about 2 pounds)
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Cut off the fennel stalks, if any, even with the bulb. Trim the root end even with the bottom of the bulb. Chop and save a large handful of the nicest fennel leaves. Cut each bulb in half and then into quarters. Depending on the size of the bulb, cut each quarter into 3 or 4 pieces (each piece should be no more than 1/2-inch thick). Make sure each piece includes a piece of the core—this will hold the fennel together during roasting. Heat the oven to 400 F degrees. Place the fennel pieces in a large bowl. Drizzle with enough of the olive oil to coat them evenly and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Toss until coated. Transfer the pieces to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake, turning the fennel once or twice, until golden brown and tender, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool. Sprinkle with the chopped leaves and, if desired, grated cheese and additional olive oil before serving.
More on roasted fennel:
Chop up any leftovers and add them to basic tomato sauce for pasta
Toss chopped roasted fennel and add to tuna salad
Toss into just about any salad
Use as a burger topping
Chop fine, season with lemon, olive oil, sea salt and pepper and use as a ‘salsa’ for fish