Fennel: Plan B

All of my plans for using fennel fronds went up in smoke this weekend.

Well, actually they went down the gullets of a gang of hungry green, yellow and black caterpillars.

We didn’t notice until it was too late – these guys have great camouflage!

By then, our bronze fennel was reduced to naked stalks, some broken from the weight of these munchers. But, it’s all good. We looked them up, and our marauders will soon turn into swallowtail butterflies. That’s worth some sacrifice of our plans for flavored vinegars and bread.

Next year, we will plant twice the amount of fennel to feed the young ones. You can never have too many swallowtails.

Now we can turn our attention to fennel bulbs, which have become almost commonplace in markets.  (We were growing our own fennel for its greenery –  bulbs don’t form well in our clay soil.) With its mild anise flavor and firm texture, fennel bulb is like the love child of a sweet onion and celery. It adds a certain sophistication to a dish, but is easy to use.

To cook with it, just cut off the tough root end and the green stems. Slice the bulb into slivers and you are ready. You can saute fennel in olive oil over medium heat for about five minutes and add it pizza toppings, omelets and bruschetta. Its mild flavor makes it a great companion to the saltiness and acidity of olives, lemons and oranges.

And, it’s great with seafood. Try this simple pickled fennel topping for these shrimp tacos. But don’t be afraid to serve it instead of cole slaw with the next fish fry.

Shrimp Tacos with Pickled Fennel

2 fennel bulbs

zest of one lemon

1/2 cup white vinegar or white wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

1 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

At least two hours before serving: Slice the fennel into matchstick-size pieces. Put fennel and lemon zest in a pint canning jar or small glass bowl with lid.

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the vinegar, water, garlic, salt, sugar and pepper to a boil. Pour over fennel and lemon zest. Cover loosely and let cool to room temperature. Seal container and refrigerate.

Tacos:

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 sweet onion, diced

1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. oregano

hot sauce to taste

1/2 cup shredded Jack cheese

4 flour tortillas

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Heat oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute for five minutes.

Turn heat to medium, add the shrimp, salt and pepper, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, just until shrimp turn bright pink.

Remove from heat, sprinkle with hot sauce and cheese and fill tortillas. Sprinkle with cilantro. Using a slotted spoon, top the tacos with the pickled fennel.

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