Monday, January 29th, 2007

Cheesy Fennel Rice Casserole and Fennel Salad with Celery and Pecans

I'm ashamed to say that I've never picked up a fennel bulb and cooked with it, and am not quite sure if I've tried it before. I had a leftover ...

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I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never picked up a fennel bulb and cooked with it, and am not quite sure if I’ve tried it before. I had a leftover fennel bulb after using some of the sprigs for a jarred experiment I’ve been working on (more on that to come), so it was high time.

Thankfully, the fennel bulb didn’t surprise me in any way; I suppose I’ve read about and watched enough chefs cook with it. While aromatic, it isn’t particularly flavorful but its subtle qualities would be drowned with too much accompaniment. I’d heard of fennel au gratin which appealed to my wintery cravings and decided to fill it out with rice. A crunchy salad of shaved fennel and celery paired really nicely with pecans and a drizzle of oil and vinegar. I didn’t actually have a tool that could shave the vegetables, so it was a less refined result of thinly sliced fennel and celery.

Contrary to most au gratin dishes, I tried to make this one very light so you could really taste the delicate anise flavor cooked into the rice (or at least smell it).

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Cheesy Fennel Rice Casserole
(makes about 3 main course-size servings)

1 cup rice
2 cups boiling water
1 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Three quarters of 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped (reserving 1 quarter for the salad)
1/2 medium onion
1 Tb flour
1 Tb butter
1 cup milk
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Fennel sprigs for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Let rice soak, covered, in boiling hot water for about 20 minutes. Drain. In a saucepan or small dutch oven, saute the onions and fennel in some butter or oil for about 5-10 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat evenly with grease for about 5 minutes. Pour in chicken broth. Bake in a covered casserole or dutch oven for 30 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add flour and stir frequently to create a roux, about 5 minutes. Add milk and stir until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until fully melted. Add cheese mixture to rice and stir to incorporate evenly. Bake uncovered another 5 minutes or so for a slightly golden crust and serve.

Fennel Salad with Celery and Pecans

1/4 shaved fennel bulb
1 stalk shaved celery
Handful or two of pecans
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Dash of salt and pepper
Fennel sprigs for garnish

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes before serving for best results.

Cost Calculator
(for 3 servings)

1 medium fennel bulb (at $2.99/lb): $2.78
½ onion (at $0.99/lb): $0.25
1 cup rice: $0.25
1 ¼ cup chicken or veg. broth: $0.85
1 cup milk: $0.37
¾ cup shredded cheese: $0.50
1 celery stalk (at $1.50/heart): $0.18
1 handful pecans: $0.35
Butter, flour, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper: $0.12

Total: $5.65

Health Factor

Four brownie points – although mostly white in color, fennel is full of vitamins like C and fiber. Celery is also very underrated for its nutritional benefits, and both veggies taste good raw and cooked.

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10 Responses to “Cheesy Fennel Rice Casserole and Fennel Salad with Celery and Pecans”

  1. michael says:

    I’ll tell you about the bomb recipe: cheesy brown rice cauliflower sunflower seed casserole. I’m not one for details (my mom used to make it), but I remember it involving some chicken soup stock for cooking the rice, a layer of cauliflower, a bunch of cheddar cheese on top of that, and sunflower seeds added for maybe the last 15 minutes or… a bunch of em. It is truly da bomb! And I’m sure it could easily accomodate whatever foofy Brooklyn veggies you dig up next.

  2. Yvo says:

    Mm, that sounds interesting. I see Giada cooking with fennel quite often and it’s kind of Italian-ish I guess (someone told me last night was battle fennel on Iron Chef America, with Batali as one of the chefs). I always want to try fennel but when people say it tastes like licorice, I’m turned off because growing up, I hated black licorice…

  3. Susan in Italy says:

    Hey thanks for the ideas. I picked up 2 fennel bulbs at the market this weekend and haven’t known what to do with them. To Yvo, fennel does taste like a cross between licorice (very mild) and celery. When it’s roasted, it is even less licorice-y.

  4. Jason Truesdell says:

    I keep forgetting to cook with fennel because it tastes so nice just sliced thinly off-axis marinated for a few hours with coarse salt and citrus juice (lemon or yuzu juice are my favorites).

    But I did have an excellent pizza baked with fresh figs and fennel. I still crave that even when figs aren’t remotely in season.

  5. cathy says:

    Mmm, roasted fennel and fennel pizza! Has anyone attempted a dessert with this veggie? Jason–I actually used lemon juice on a fennel salad the other day and liked it much better than vinegar, too.

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