This grilled fennel turned out absolutely amazing and was very simple to make. I got the idea from a dish I tried recently at a local restaurant, Pizzeria Delfina, but honestly did not believe my version would be anywhere near as awesome. To my surprise, it was pretty darn close. Needless to say I am super proud of myself for this one and I hope I can convince you to try it.
Fennel is a unique vegetable that looks like a cross between celery and an onion, but tastes like neither. The flavor resembles anise or black liquorish when raw (a taste I still really struggle with), but takes on a sweeter, more herbal flavor when cooked. I have always been a fan of cooked fennel, despite my aversion to raw preparations. But I had no idea how far this misunderstood vegetable could be elevated by throwing it on the grill.
Don’t have a grill, you say? Awesome, neither do I. Backyards aren’t exactly standard in city apartments. For this recipe I used an apartment-friendly alternative to an outdoor grill, the humble grill pan.
A grill pan is special because it features raised ridges that can leave those wonderful, coveted grill marks on your food. Grill marks not only give your food a lovely appearance, they also add a unique flavor because sugars and fats caramelize where they come in contact with the hot pan. This effect cannot be achieved in a standard fry pan and the grill pan is a delicious alternative for cooking meats, fish and most vegetables.
My favorite grill pan (also the favorite of Cook’s Illustrated) is only about $40, far cheaper than a traditional outdoor grill or indoor electric grill. You can buy it at Amazon.
Feel free to use which ever grilling method is easiest for you.
When picking out your fennel, I recommend using several baby fennel bulbs rather than one large one (they’re in season now). Baby fennel is more tender because it does not have a large, hard inner core like full-sized fennel. A tender center allows you to leave the bulb mostly intact on the grill, making it easier to turn and cook evenly.
I purchased Lisbon lemon olive oil from Stonehouse Olive Oil at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. You can find lemon oil at specialty grocery stores, and it is a wonderful ingredient for spring vegetable dishes. But if you prefer, you can make due with extra virgin olive oil and a meyer (or regular) lemon.
This is a side dish. I paired mine with asparagus ravioli and sorrel.
Grilled Fennel with Lemon Oil
- Fennel (~1 lb)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Lemon olive oil (or 1/2 Meyer lemon juice and zest)
- Sea salt
- Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
If you are using baby fennel, cut off the green stems and the very bottom of the root (but not so much that the layers have nothing to attach to). Then cut the fennel in half lengthwise, and then again into 4-6 bite-sized wedges.
The goal is to get your fennel into manageable chunks, which means (ideally) all the layers would still be attached at the bottom. This is much more difficult if you have removed the core. In my experiment (I made the mistake of buying large fennel) I removed the core on one half before cooking and left the other half with the core in while cooking. It was easier to get the fennel to cook evenly on the half where the core was still attached. You can remove the core after cooking if it is still tough.
If you are using a large fennel bulb simply trim off the stems, slice off the bottom and cut the bulb in half lengthwise. Cut each half into even-sized wedges, about 0.5 inch thick.
For an outdoor grill, simply brush your fennel wedges with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and grill until soft and tender, turning occasionally.
For a grill pan, heat the pan on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes. Lightly coat fennel in olive oil and sea salt (use a bowl and stir). When the pan is hot, add 1-2 tbsp olive oil and gently swirl it in the pan so it coats the surface. Place fennel in a single layer on the hot grill, lower the heat to medium and cook until translucent, tender and slightly browned, turning occasionally. For me this took about 10 minutes. I recommend using tongs with nylon headsto turn your fennel in the pan.
Your fennel should have grill marks and be caramelized in places. I suggest exercising patience and allowing fennel to become extremely tender, but you can choose your desired crunchiness. Remove the fastest cooking fennel pieces from the grill when they are done and place them in a bowl.
When all the fennel is finished cooking, drizzle it lightly with lemon oil (or juice and zest) and sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley. Adjust salt and zest if necessary.
Have you tried grilling fennel?