Choose fennel for simplicity or to add complexity

The Whole Dish podcast: Consider light fennel, citrus salad for Thanksgiving feast

You know a vegetable officially is in mainstream use when it’s stocked at Sherm’s Thunderbird Market in west Medford.

Don’t get me wrong. Sherm’s has made huge strides in the past few years to embrace some of the more esoteric bits of produce. But fennel remains one of those items that check-out clerks at grocery stores around the region still struggle to identify. Often being mislabeled as “anise” doesn’t help.

Yet fennel happens to be one of my favorite cold-weather vegetables, which I eat thinly sliced in salads and slaws, diced and sautéed like onion and quartered and braised until it’s tender and silky-textured. I incorporated fennel into a recipe for a recent cooking class at Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford. Part of the series titled “Kitchen Wisdom,” the class provided participants with inspiration for making the most of in-season produce, admittedly more of a challenge in late fall than in summer.

Unfortunately, the fennel was forgotten at ACCESS, the organization that presents the classes for which I volunteer. And because we also lacked the winter squashes that were key ingredients in another dish, an emergency trip to Sherm’s was in order. I had no hope that fennel would come back with our class leader. But lo and behold, Sherm’s had fennel on the shelves!

Thinly sliced, as we did in class, and tossed with chopped Belgian endive or cabbage, a handful of dried cherries or cranberries and some toasted nuts, fennel lends a subtly sweet note to some of the more bitter greens that hit their stride in wintertime. But it doesn’t even take that much maneuvering to enjoy fennel. This supremely straightforward recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, is a classic Italian method for pairing the crisp, clean crunch of fennel with rich, buttery cheese, preferably authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Consider this as a light appetizer on Thanksgiving, or just a simple alternative to one of the more predictable vegetable side dishes. This one won’t take up space in the oven or on the stove.

And if you’re not prepared to switch up the menu, just give fennel a shot sautéed with onion in your holiday stuffing. It’s delicious.

Tribune News Service photo

Sliced Fennel With Parmesan

1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 bulb fennel, fronds reserved

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Using a vegetable peeler or sharp chef’s knife, peel or cut the cheese into thick, bite-size shavings.

On a work surface, cut the fennel in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/4-inch wedges.

Season fennel with the salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Top with chopped fennel fronds and cheese shavings.

Makes about 12 servings.

Recipe from

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