Fennel is one of those vegetables that seems to always be in season. Its juicy crunch tastes like summer, and those delicate fronds look like spring. But the hardy bulb is really at its peak in the winter, from early autumn through April. Lucky us -- it's a refreshing complement to winter root vegetables and potatoes.
Here is a new (to us) recipe for fennel, a new favorite for winter. It plays up the anise taste of fennel but smooths it out into a sweeter, richer flavor that we deeply enjoyed.
Pernod and fennel are an obvious pair, but we were afraid that they might be a little too obvious. Pernod, after all, has an even stronger taste of anise and licorice than fennel.
Pernod (pear-NO) is a French brand of pastis, an anise-flavored liquor and relative of absinthe. It is similar to the Greek liquor ouzo. It has a strong taste of licorice, along with a complex set of herbs. It's a very refreshing liquor and it's often served in the summer, mixed with water.
But we think that it really shines in cooking, where its herbal notes add subtlety and complexity to everything from braised dishes to salad dressings. We wanted to try it with fennel because, to be frank, we had two bulbs of fennel to braise and nearly nothing else of interest in the liquor cupboard.
It turned out that Pernod is a classic liquor for braising fennel, in spite of their shared licorice sensibilities.
We used a recipe from a British blog that we are enjoying quite a bit, The Greasy Spoon.
First the fennel is cut into quarters and browned in butter. Then you add a small amount of orange juice, Pernod, balsamic vinegar, and stock, and cook covered over low heat. It's easy as can be, and when we lifted the lid and tried a bite, the fennel nearly melted apart. It was succulent and tender, sweet and subtle with orange and licorice flavors. There was a tang from the vinegar, too, that balanced those flavors very well.
It was heavenly; we are going to make it again this week.
• Get the recipe: Braised Fennel with Orange and Pernod at The Greasy Spoon