Come winter, I start craving fresh, crunchy textures. Root vegetables, squashes and leafy greens have been on the menu for a while now and my palate yearns for something new. That’s when I’m especially grateful for fennel. Although grown all year long, the tender, voluptuous bulbs are at their sweetest and crunchiest in the winter months.
Florence fennel or finocchio is the fennel that we’re all used to seeing at the market. The female plant produces a large round bulb with a delicate anise flavor that lends itself perfectly to being eaten raw. But lately, I’ve been wanting to make something a bit different with fennel. So I decided to try fennel fritters… and I’m so glad I did!
First I blanched the fennel slices until tender but still a bit crunchy. Then I dipped them in eggs and coated them with Parmesan breadcrumbs. And finally, to highlight the fennel’s delicate anise flavor, I crushed a few fennel seeds in a mortar and added them to the crumb mixture.
Pan-fried in a little olive oil, the fennel fritters came out tender on the inside and delightfully crunchy on the outside. Served with a fragrant Meyer lemon dip, these fritters were irresistible – just what I’d hoped for!
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how much vegetables have to offer. They are to me what colors are to a painter: a rich palette of flavors and textures. And coaxing it all out of them is truly my passion. So here’s to fennel and all that it so willingly and generously brings forth…
Food & wine pairing: Alsace, Pinot Blanc with Parmesan-crusted fennel fritters
A medium- to full-bodied white wine with mellow lemony notes works really well with these scrumptious morsels. Try a Pinot Blanc from Alsace or a Chenin Blanc from South Africa. A sparkling Chenin Blanc would be wonderful here too!
Parmesan-crusted fennel fritters with Meyer lemon dip
makes 16 to 20 fritters or 4 servings
active time: 40 min
For the dip
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest (or regular lemon zest)
- 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons regular lemon juice)
For the fennel
- 1 large fennel bulb
- 1 teaspoon sea salt for the blanching water
For the breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds – finely ground in a mortar
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 extra large eggs – lightly beaten
- high heat vegetable oil for pan-frying
- fennel greens as garnish
- Step 1: To make the dip — Place the sour cream in a bowl. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Whisk until well incorporated and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Step 2: To trim the fennel bulb – Cut the stalks off where they meet the bulb. Cut the bulb in quarters, right through the root end. Then cut each quarter in 4 to 5, 1/4” slices, making sure to cut right through the root end again so the slices stay attached together. (The fennel slices can be blanched right away or placed in a bowl and submerged with cold water. They can be stored this way and refrigerated for several hours. This will keep them crisp and prevent them from discoloring).
- Step 3: Fill a medium bowl with cold water and several ice cubes, set aside. Fill a medium heavy-bottomed pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and fennel slices. Blanch for 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water bath until cool. Drain on kitchen towels or paper towels and pat-dry.
- Step 4: Place the breadcrumbs, cheese, ground fennel seeds, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and stir until well blended. Spread on a plate and set aside. Place the beaten eggs in a small bowl. Dip each fennel slice in the egg and then turn them in the breadcrumb mixture. Place on a plate large enough to hold all the slices in a single layer.
- Cook’s note: The fennel fritters can be prepared to this point up to 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate until ready to pan-fry them.
- Step 5: To make the fritters – Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Add enough oil to the pan to reach 1/8” up the sides. When the oil is hot add the fennel slices to the pan so they are in a single layer, without overcrowding them. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until golden-brown. Flip the slices and continue to sauté for another 2 minutes until golden-brown. Remove from pan with a slotted spatula and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Overlap 4 to 5 fritters in the center of each plate. Place a spoonful of the dip next to them. Garnish with fennel greens and serve immediately. Alternatively, serve as an hors d’oeuvres and place the fritters on a large platter and the dip in a medium bowl. Serve the fritters piping hot, as they become soggy as they cool.