When the days draw shorter, a warming dish like finocchio purée provides comfort. Yet it is not one of your heavy comfort foods. Light, with a delicate flavor, this purée marries well with all sorts of autumn dishes — meat, fish or poultry, grilled or lovingly simmered — and makes a spectacular pairing with game. It also makes a fine addition to a vegetarian meal. And the beauty is that the finocchio growing season is … all year round.
Purée de fenouil / Finocchio purée
I mentioned this dish in my last post, saying I’d served it to guests with sauté d’agneau. There was a guessing-game moment at the table when my guests tried to identify the purée. The distinctive anise-like flavor of finocchio, aka fennel bulbs, becomes more subtle when it is cooked, perhaps explaining the confusion. And cooked it is, at least in France, where it is one of the most versatile veggies around.
On this site alone, cooked finocchio appears in recipes for braised fennel soup, chicken bouillabaisse, pork with autumn vegetables, braised with Belgian endive and roasted winter veggies. It appears raw in a root vegetable salad, on a platter of grand aioli and in a winter salad of blood oranges, and its seeds are a star ingredient in a pizza of homemade sausage with broccoli. You might think I kind of like it.
You would be right. Various cookbooks on my shelves include finocchio dishes I haven’t tried making yet: thinly sliced in a salad of raw fennel, peaches, avocados and pan-seared shrimp; lightly grilled in a salad with beef bathed in homemade anchovy purée; in a rabbit terrine; in a carpaccio of sea scallops; in stuffed red mullet; and in a salad with green olives and lemon that I was once served by an Algerian friend. I plan to try them all.
Perhaps finocchio’s culinary versatility is tied to the fact that it has been around for centuries — even millennia. The fennel plant grows wild all across the Mediterranean region, its fronds topped by delicate yellow flowers that resemble Queen Anne’s Lace. It was used in cooking by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who believed it had healing qualities, a belief that persists to this day. Rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories, it is a perfect food for dieters and gourmets alike.
The finocchio purée presented here is a recipe I invented, based on tasting it at restaurants. It is ultra-simple to prepare, and a crowd pleaser.