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When I go to my boyfriend’s mother’s house I don’t sit around in uncomfortable silence like most people might when they “meet the parents.” His mom and I have bonded over new recipes and foods. Our current fave is a mussel dish with onions and fennel from the Food Network show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.
While fennel may sound intimidating, it’s delicious and good for you–definitely worth a try! Fennel, which is in the same family as carrots and dill, has a large white bulb that extends into green celery-like stalks. It is topped with feathery green leaves and flowers. Fennel seeds, stalks, leaves and bulbs are all edible. While raw, fennel’s strong licorice smell may be a turn-off at first, but once cooked it actually tastes quite mild.
Fennel is sometimes misnamed “anise” in grocery stores, because the two plants share a similar smell, shape and flavor. While you can consume almost all of the fennel plant, cooks usually reserve anise only for its seeds. But fear not! What you are buying is most likely fennel, even if it is labeled anise. Double-checking with your grocer couldn’t hurt.
Not only is it slightly sweet and utterly delicious, fennel is filled with nutrients and good-for-you phytonutrients. These phytonutrients provide antioxidents and are thought to provide anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects. Fennel bulb also contains high levels of Vitamin C, which is essential for a healthy immune system. And to top it off, fennel is also a very good source of fiber, folate, and potassium.
You can eat fennel in a number of ways; try it sauteed with onions and served over mussels, scallops, or clams. Or, slice it up and throw it in a salad with avacado and orange.
To prepare fennel, cut the stalks off the bulb. If you are using the bulb, peel off the outside layers and cut it as you would an onion. If you’re using the stalks, cut them up as you would celery.
If you are feeling ambitious or adventurous, try my favorite fennel recipe!
Mouclade of Mussels
adapted (to exclude heavy cream) from Mediterranean by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow
4 ½ lbs fresh mussels
1 cup dry white wine
good pinch of grated nutmeg
3 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon curry paste or powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flower
ground black pepper
fresh dill to garnish
1.Scrub the mussels, discarding any that are damaged or open ones that do not close when tapped with a knife.
2. Put the wine, nutmeg, thyme, bay leaves and onion in a large saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour in the mussels and cover with a lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until the mussels have opened.
3. Drain the mussels, reserving all the juices. Discard any mussels that remained closed.
4. Melt the butter in a large clean pan and gently saute the fennel slices and garlic for about 5 minutes, until softened.
5. Stir in the curry paste or powder and flour and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and gradually blend in the cooking juices from the mussels. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
6. Stir in a little pepper. Add the mussels to the pan and heat through for 2 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with dill.