My gardening friend gave me a fennel bulb which I shall use in some delicious way yet to be decided. But it came with this great big bunch of fennel leaves and stalks.
In days gone by I would have just used a few and thrown the rest in the compost but surely I can do something better than that? Modern times have taught us 'waste not, want not' and surely these are a prime example of something that can be turned into one of those Extras that Ottolenghi's latest book is about.
So I have been browsing the net of course, and have indeed come up with a few different things. Which to go for? That is the question.
I looked for quiche recipes but found none - I had thought you might be able to make a quiche with sautéed stalks and lots of chopped fennel - perhaps with onions and a touch of lemon? But I have yet to find a recipe for a quiche that uses the fronds. Well only as a slight bit of additional flavour. Not as the main ingredient. Does that mean I have a brilliantly original idea, or does it mean that it's just too much fennel? I have seen quiche recipes that use the bulb of course, but not just the leaves. I've seen some with parsley though, so why not fennel?
I remembered that the French use them when barbecuing fish to flavour the fire. They throw the stalks on the fire and the smoke flavours the fish. And indeed fish is one of the main partners to fennel. Yes you can throw those fennel stalks on the fire, but you can also use them when you grill or bake your fish. Either wrap the fish in the stalks - with some fronds attached - or lay the fish on a bed of them. Plus lemon and butter or oil, maybe some garlic. So maybe that could be my fish dish for the week. You don't eat the stalks of course but they impart a great flavour.
I also found somebody suggesting boiling some of the same stalks in water to create flavourful poaching liquid for fish or chicken. A stock for soup as well perhaps. Or maybe to cook rice in.
Still on just the stalks - which you can of course just chop fine and use as you would onions or celery in anything at all. Well you can also pickle them. I found two recipes for this. One from Martha Stewart's TV show Kurt Beecher Dammeier's Pickled fennel stems and one from The Fennel Frond. Now to be fair, the lady of The Fennel Frond had not actually tried her pickle and originally she had made a typo and told her readers to use 1 cup of salt instead of a 1/4 - which would have not been good. No I don't think I'll try this one. The fish is a rather better idea - or just chopping them and adding them to things. But if you're into pickles ...
Pickles made me think of chutney but like the quiche I have yet to really find anyone who has done this. Fennel is said to go with apples, corn, grapes, olives and oranges though, so maybe you could work into a chutney featuring one or more of those.
So let's give up on the stalks. What about the leaves - or fronds as they like to call them.
Well butter - there are lots of herb butters so surely you can do it with fennel? Well yes, and you can add other things to it - lemon, garlic, chilli ... but curiously most of the recipes for fennel butter used the seeds rather than the fronds. I wonder why? What's wrong with using the fronds? I might give it a try, although I have to buy some butter first.
Sauce? - No people don't seem to do that. Fennel sauce is always made with the bulb it seems to me. But again, why not? After all you can make parsley sauce which is fundamentally fairly bland - or as I like to say - delicate. So why not fennel? For fish. Fish is definitely fennel's true love.
No - the thing to do is pesto. Of course. And here you will find a plethora of recipes, many of which seem to like pumpkin seeds instead of the usual pine nuts - or other kind of nuts. The rest though is your normal pesto process.
There was one recipe that stood out for me though - from Serious Eats' Daniel Gritzer - although I think it is more of a sauce than a pesto. But then I guess pesto is a sauce. And it doesn't have cheese in it either - or nuts. But it does have anchovies and mustard too. Yes that's what I shall do with the bulk of my leaves. I wonder if you can freeze it while I think of something exciting to do with it.