Fennel, native to the Mediterranean, grows well in the similar climate of the California Central Coast. It grew in abundance all over the uncultivated slopes of our erstwhile avocado ranch, along with prickly pear cactus, both now sadly unavailable to us. But no matter; just as it does abroad, the plant grows wild here, springing up plentifully on roadsides, hillsides, vacant lots, and cracks in the sidewalk.
Throughout the millennia, Mediterranean cultures have reaped the wild fennel harvest for culinary and medicinal purposes. It was a field of wild fennel (marathon) in ancient Greece that lent its name to the place it grew…Marathon…site of an historic battle between the Persians and the Athenians. When the vastly outmanned Athenian army routed the Persians, so the story goes, a messanger named Pheidippides ran the 26.2 miles to Athens to bring them the news of victory. He subsequently collapsed and died of exhaustion, but we still commemorate (and some emulate) his feat, calling the brutal test of endurance by the name of where it occurred…place where the wild fennel grows.
(For more than you may ever have wished to know about fennel, click here.)
Fennel happens to be one of Mike’s favorite foods; he loves the bulbs sliced up raw in salads, he loves them braised in stews or rubbed with a little olive oil and roasted in the oven; he loves the chopped fronds as an herby note mixed with fresh greens; he loves the fruits (often called seeds) just to eat a spoonful of after dinner. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for something new to do with fennel.
The something arrived while thumbing through the December 2006 issue of Saveur magazine, one of my favorite food reads. In an article by Nancy Coons called “Provence Noel” (which offers a simply fascinating glimpse of the place and the culture for lovers of Christmas traditions around the world, such as moi) I noticed a recipe for anchiode, which is a traditional Mediterranean sauce made of anchovies and oil. It’s usually used, as it was in the Provencal Christmas feast Ms. Coons was recounting, as a dipping sauce for raw carrots or other crudite, but makes a great dressing for roasted or grilled meat or vegetables or even salad greens. Although often made with olive oil, this version, is made with butter.
And that got me to thinking about how good it would be to make a hot salad (since it’s winter now) of grilled endive and fennel bulbs, tossed with anchiode. When you consider the healthy fats in the anchovies and lauric acid in the butter, the plethora of antioxidants in the fennel, it’s a real feel-good-about-eating-it dish. And thus:
Grilled Fennel and Endive with Anchiode
For the Anchoide:
(from Nancy Coons in Saveur, December 2006)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounce jar or tin of boneless anchovy fillets
1. Combine the anchovies and butter in a small saucepan, heat over medium heat, crushing as stirring the anchovies wih a fork as the butter melts
2. Cook, stirring with the fork until hot through (about 3-4 minutes). Set aside.
*Note: the recipe makes about 1 cup, of which you’ll need only about 1/2 cup for this salad. Reserve the rest in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week; rewarm for tossing with cooked spaghetti squash or to dress other yummy cooked low carb veggies, such as boiled celery root, roasted peppers, green beans, broccoli/cauliflower,etc.
For the salad:
2 fennel bulbs, washed, trimmed, and quartered
4 heads of endive, washed and split lengthwise
1. Rub the fennel and endive with olive oil, sprinkle with just a touch of coarse salt (the anchovies will be salty enough) and grind on plenty of fresh black pepper.
2. Grill on hot grill pan (or outdoor grill) for about 5-6 minutes, turning as needed to prevent burning, but allowing the veggies to wilt and pick up grill marks.
3. Remove the veggies to a cutting board and coarsely chop them.
4. Dress with about 1/2 cup anchiode, tossing to coat thoroughly.
5. Serve immediately.
For those who harbor a knee-jerk aversion to anchovies, give this a try. Although flavorful and strong, it doesn’t taste remotely fishy. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.