Ahhh, the weather is warming up! Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and spring is springing itself all over the place. This breezy, glorious weather also beckons us outside, making us think of back yard parties and long candle-lit summer nights with friends, after a feast that you’ve grilled outdoors. With this in mind, I’m offering up grilled fennel with orange and parsley. It’s one of my favorite grilled sides, one that’s easy and quick, and takes almost no skill to execute successfully.
Ironically, I am not an outdoorsy girl (mosquitos love me) and I grill inside. Eh. Whatever works. (And, bonus! I do this all through the winter.) If you love to grill your food then invest in a grill pan; you won’t regret it. To the grilling purists who are apoplectic at the thought of taking it indoors, I apologize if I hurt your heart. But it won’t change me. Moving on.
I love the savory twist that comes from a fresh fennel plant. Yes, the seeds are pungent and taste of licorice. When fennel is raw the sharp licorice taste remains. Once it starts to cook, the flavor mellows into a sort of caramel-crisp-crunchy, mildly-anise-y flavor bomb that moves into your brain as one of those, “Oh, man, I don’t know when I’ve had this but I know I’ve always liked it!” sort of taste memories. There is much to love about a good bulb of fennel. And you can use all of it, bulb, stem and leaf, so none of it goes to waste. Extra-fun!
When you do cook it, bear in mind that one bulb will produce a tremendous amount of food. I’ve never needed more than one bulb when I cook for two people, and we always have leftovers. If you’re cooking for four, you might need to add in another bulb, but if there’s only two people to feed…here’s what I used:
- 1 fresh fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or other favorite herb)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest
- 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
Put a grill pan on your stovetop and turn the burners on (or heat your grill) so it will be ready and waiting for the fennel. You’ll want it to get kind of hot, so a medium-to-medium-high heat will do nicely.
If any of the outside leaves of the fennel look gnarly or damaged, peel them off and throw them away. Cut fennel stalks and fronds off the bulb and save them for another use (think garnishes, or soup stocks). Cut the fennel bulb in half. You could cut the core out if you’d prefer. I usually cut the core because it’s a little tougher than the rest of the fennel, but if you don’t feel like it, it’s not a big deal. You’ll be cutting thin slices, it will all cook. Cut fennel into nice narrow strips and toss in a mixing bowl. Then add in rosemary, salt, pepper, and oil. Give it a stir.
Turn fennel on to your waiting, heated grill pan. If you have a single-burner pan (like the one I used here) you may have to cook the fennel in two batches. Like I said, one bulb can provide an enormous amount of food; and you really need to provide food with adequate room to cook in. It’s OK. The fennel is nice and thin, so even if you have to split the batch it won’t take long.
Leave the fennel strips alone for a few minutes. While they cook you can zest your orange and clean and chop the parsley. Give the fennel a stir on the grill after they’ve been browning for a few minutes. If they’ve been on your grill for five minutes and haven’t started to brown yet, then turn up the heat because your pan isn’t hot enough. Once they’ve gotten that lovely, grill-specific, brown-in-some-places-kind-of-charred-in-others look, and are soft and mellow (yet savory and still pleasantly crunchy), put it back in the mixing bowl. Add in orange zest and parsley.
Combine all ingredients. Taste a piece and decide if you need to adjust for more seasonings. More salt? Pepper? Nothing? Something? Ready? FEAST!
We served this with some ravioli and a side salad, but this could go with anything. With burgers. ON burgers. With grilled chicken, or crepes, or as a fruity and refreshing counter to a rich pulled pork. It’s such a simple side with readily-available ingredients, and it’s so easy to make.
Don’t let the licorice-y reputation of fennel turn you off. When cooked, fennel offers an entirely different taste experience. Give it a shot! Explore your produce department. You never know what kind of new favorite thing you might encounter along the way.