Finnochio

I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old when I first tasted Finnochio (“Feh nook” in the inimitable Trenton Italian-American dialect). I wondered what this strange looking, vaguely anise tasting celery was, but I liked it and how we dipped it in olive oil with salt and pepper before eating it.

We were at the home of my Great Aunt Della. Della was one of my paternal grandfather’s sisters and we were at her house for a polenta dinner and the Finnochio was part of the prelude.

Fennel is the familiar herb whose fronds are often used in fish or egg preparations and whose seeds are an integral ingredient in Italian sausage (at least to my palate). Its taste does seem to be one that people either like or don’t with little middle ground. It is reminiscent of black licorice (which I am not a fan) or anise (this I like), but subtler.

The Florence fennel is a cultivar grown to be eaten as a vegetable, raw or cooked. Finnochio is increasingly found in local supermarkets, albeit sometimes mislabeled as “anise.” But the quality of the bulbs found there is often inferior.

Fortunately, fall is the time for local fennel. The best bulbs are fat, heavy for their size and blemish free. The fronds on the stalks should be fresh and verdant.

It’s inexpensive. Ann picked some up recently at $1.25 per bulb. Low in calories, Florence Fennel makes a fairly nutritious and tasty snack.

At table before dinner, a few crunchy slices of fennel bulb dipped in olive oil are a great way to whet the appetite and excite the palate for the meal to come. It’s also good served after a hearty meal of roasted meat.

The sweet, delicately flavored bulb works well with other vegetables. One local vendor includes slices fennel in a fresh fig salad that also includes dried cranberries, sweet potato gnocchi and nuts.

Cooking Finnochio heightens its sweetness and softens the already subtle anise characteristic of its flavor. It’s delicious braised or roasted served as a side dish.

Preparation is simple: Cut off the fronds and tough, fibrous stalks. Cut the hard base off of the bulb. Slice. After rubbing the slices with some olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, you can roast the slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 – 20 minutes until softened and browned. Or you can braise the slices in olive oil or water and butter. Season, sprinkle some grated Parmigiano reggiano over the fennel. 

Or serve it my favorite way…raw slices served with some good quality extra virgin olive oil to which a pinch of kosher salt and some fresh cracked black pepper have been added. Dip the fennel into the seasoned oil and enjoy.  

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2 Responses to “Finnochio”

  1. Fig salad! « Dj'eat? Says:

    […] on Saturdays during the season, Vitella’s fig salad is a simple composition of figs, sliced fennel, asparagus, cherries, dried cranberries, raisins and sweet potato gnocchi in a balsamic vinegar […]

  2. MARCI Says:

    ALWAYS HAD IT AT MY GRANDMOTHER’S FOR CHRISTMAS EVE,LOVE IT

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