Funny fennel

Fennel tastes subtly sweet and lightly licorice

Fennel, like kohlrabi, is one of those vegetables that looks to me as if it should have a face and talk. Reminds me of Beaker on “The Muppets,” all squeak and agitated fronds.

But fennel is calmer than Beaker, lends a soft, sweet hint of anise and a bit of crunch, depending on whether you use bulb, fronds, seeds or any combination thereof.

 Also, if you leave some in the ground to overwinter, it will spread into a fennel patch. Ours should be shoulder-to-shoulder with the rhubarb in the spring.

When we were market gardening 20 years ago, we had an Italian client who was so excited when fennel time rolled around; that and fava beans were her favorites.

Fennel’s interesting raw or cooked. The current issue of Weight Watchers magazine suggests substituting chopped fronds for fresh dill in any recipe when you can’t find fresh dill (and dried is no substitute as we know) or using diced pieces of the bulb for celery in salads, stuffings and stir-fries.

Since beginning to work on my weight for good and all about a year ago, we’ve eaten better and we’ve eaten more adventurously. This Weight Watchers pizza is sturdy, tasty and easy with only 336 calories and 7 g total fat in each individual serving (pie).

Fennel-tomato pizza

1 10-ounce trimmed fennel bulb

1 tablespoon minced fennel frond

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 2/3 teaspoon dried)

1 minced garlic clove

1 pound refrigerated whole-wheat pizza dough, thawed

3 sliced tomatoes

1/2 cup low-fat Italian cheese blend

Heat oven to 475. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Thinly slice fennel bulb. Snip frond sprigs and set aside. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fennel bulb and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add oregano and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.

The last of our yellow tomatoes baked with fennel on a wholesome pizza

Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Place dough on surface; divide into 4. With floured hands, stretch each piece of dough into 6-inch circle. Place dough circles on baking sheet 1 inch apart. Bake 5 minutes; remove from oven. Top with fennel mixture, tomatoes and cheese. Return to oven and bake until crusts are crisp and cheese melts, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with minced fronds.


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