By Kristina Strain
I suppose it’s time to admit that I’m a fennel-phile. Oh, I toed the line for years, snapping up fennel sliced in salads and caramelized in the roasting pan, but I really crossed over last fall, when I started a batch of white bean and potato soup with a fennel-spiked mirepoix. It was the life-changing sort of meal, if I’m being honest: a revelatory bowl of soup during which I chewed thoughtfully and meditated on the many more fennel possibilities that would open to me if I were only to grow the stuff. The fennel, cooked with onions and celery and carrots, had elevated that simple soup to near-ambrosial status. Making good on this revelation, my spring seed order included a packet of unassuming little speck-sized fennel seeds.
Ah, yes. You know you’re a special vegetable when you’re given space in my garden. This spring, I designated a fennel patch, eight feet long. At the time of this writing, the plants are nearly as tall as I am, and, I hesitate to advertise: if you have a clingy toddler dogging you for some reason, whining for candy—you can take him to my garden and lose him in the fennel. Perhaps permanently. Of course, I’m not growing it for its child-concealment skills; this week I’ve finally begun to eat the stuff, and it is divine.
Sunday, I sautéed fennel and onions in the pan before I cracked in three eggs; Tuesday I whirred a passel of fennel fronds in the food processor with crushed red pepper, lemon zest, ground fennel seed, and a healthy glug of olive oil. Fennel pesto, presto! I am imagining how stunning it will taste on grilled fish; for now, we’ve been content to eat it on roasted potatoes. And of course, I’m anticipating throwing sliced fennel into the roasting pan when our weather gets just a mite colder. With that in mind, I present to you this recipe for vegetable tart, starring roasted fennel. It is, naturally, endlessly adaptable (try with roasted tomatoes and basil pesto in August) but tastes especially sublime this way.
Vegetable Tart with Roasted Fennel
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced
1 small yellow onion, in wedges
1 large potato, cubed
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped cabbage
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoon yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 375°. Toss the vegetables in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and black pepper, and roast, turning occasionally until soft and lightly golden. While the vegetables roast, prepare the crust.
Proof the yeast with the sugar and water for a few minutes in a medium bowl, then whisk in the egg, salt, and oil. Add the flours, working the dough gently until it holds together. Divide the dough in half (this recipe makes enough for two tarts) and put one half away in the freezer for next week. Roll out the other half on a floured surface, and then fit it into a lightly oiled tart part (or a round metal cake pan, or a pie pan, in a pinch). Bake the unfilled crust seven minutes.
Whisk three eggs in a bowl with salt, pepper, and maybe a handful of chopped fennel fronds or fresh dill. Pour the eggs over the roasted vegetables in the tart shell, sprinkle with grated Swiss cheese, and bake another 35 minutes.
Kristina Strain blogs about growing food, raising chickens and home renovation at Sweetfern Handmade. She lives and homesteads in Gilbertsville.
This piece originally appeared in our Fall 2013 issue, which is available to subscribers on our online archive.