Not quite a classic “hot weather crop” like tomatoes or peppers that need the late summer kiss of heat to fully reach their potential, fennel is a tasty edible to harvest and devour this time of year, when temperatures are high but before the dog days have fully arrived. Fennel is a cousin to celery and dill; the seeds and leaves add a nice burst of flavor to a number of dishes, but kitchen gardeners are particularly fond of the bulbing variety (also known as Florence fennel or finocchio). The modified leaves of this tasty veggie add a huge, hearty crunch to salads, pastas and risottos. Or, fennel bulbs can be the centerpiece of your entrée, as in this panade (a strained, savory soup with chunks of bread) described below.
3 fennel bulbs, foliage cut away
½ cup white wine
½ cup vegetable broth
¼ loaf crusty bread
Assorted fresh and dried herbs
Salt and pepper
Piquant white cheese that melts well (Gruyere or Jarlsberg are good choices)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. On the stove, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. In another pot, bring the wine and vegetable broth to low heat.
Cut the fennel bulbs into pieces slightly larger than bite size. They will fall apart naturally when sliced, but the more the bulbs can stay together, the bigger the payoff in the completed dish. 3. Cook the fennel in the oil for about 5 minutes on each side (flip once), until browned. Salt each side of the fennel.
Transfer fennel to a baking dish. Add the herbs to the broth/wine mixture and pour over the fennel. Put into the oven to braise for 20-30 minutes.
When the fennel is cooked to a desired consistency, remove the dish from the oven and drain the braising liquid into a bowl. Set the oven to broil.
Cut the bread into pieces about equal in size to the cooked fennel, add them to the baking dish and toss the bread and fennel together.
Pour enough of the braising liquid over the dish so the bread cubes become saturated but not overly soggy. Grate a layer of cheese over the mixture and garnish with the leftover herbs -- fronds from the fennel work great!
Place under the broiler until the entire dish is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and serve within minutes.