The licorice-y flavor of fennel and the zing of lime brighten up the dark days of winter in this dish, inspired by a recipe from designer and cook Athena Calderone. If you’re like me and keep cooked beans in the refrigerator, it comes together quickly.
For a vegetable most people ignore, fennel’s got a storied history. The favorite race of long distance runners gets its name from the Greek word for fennel, marathon, and Prometheus used the plant’s hollow stalk to steal fire from the gods. Fennel is one of the nine herbs in an old Anglo-Saxon pagan charm for healing, and, in Italian, finocchio is a homophobic insult. Urban botanists regard wild fennel as an invasive weed, while gardeners plant the dusky bronze cultivar for the lacy display of fronds.
The vegetable in the produce department is Florence fennel, a cultivar bred by the vegetable-loving Italians to produce the fat leaf bases that form the part we eat. This so-called “bulb” usually comes with a few inches of hollow stem attached, often with some of the frilly fronds, too. Neither have much flavor, but the fronds add bright color so save them to add just before serving if you want.
To chop the bulb, I cut the stems off and take a thin slice from the root end if it’s brown from oxidation. With the bulb sitting upright, I slice it in half from top to bottom, lay the halves cut side down, and slice them lengthwise into thin pieces. Then I cut those crosswise into smaller, bite-sized chunks. Some recipes call for removing the dense inner core, but it’s not necessary.
I toss the chopped fennel in a little olive oil with a sliced leek, piment d’Espellete red pepper, and salt. It goes into a hot oven to soften and brown for awhile, then I add cooked white beans from my refrigerator stash and pop the skillet back in the oven to warm them up. Some parsley, lime juice, and lime zest contribute a bright pop of acid and flavor, and a drizzle of extra virgin finishes it off.
Some on our team might even be obsessed (cough cough Jim). Check out a few of our favorites recipes for more bean inspiration.