It is definitely Spring here in Baja. That means that it is time for me to harvest our “winter” crops and transition our garden to summer crops. This winter I grew a plant that I had not tried before, fennel. It was surprisingly easy! I just sprinkled the seeds where I wanted to grow it and stood back! With our El Niño rains the fennel practically grew itself.
Today, I cut a few bulbs so I can process them for my freezer. I put all kinds of food in there… Since the portion of fennel in the freezer is intended for cooking I do minimal processing and I do not blanch my herbs. Here is what I did:
First I cut off the base, which I think is called the bulb (and indeed it does resemble a lily bulb). I put that part into my dishpan to soak for about 15 minutes in cold water with a little salt to draw out the bugs that might be hiding there. Sure enough there were a few small (eeeewwww!) slugs. Here is a photo of the bulbs soaking:
Next I cut off all of the ferny fronds from the stems. There was quite a pile when I was finished: (That is my butcher knife peeking out at the bottom)
Then I tackled the stem part:
It is a lot like celery so I chopped it with my trusty Cutco butcher knife. I cut the finer stem into pieces about an inch long and the thicker stems into slices about a half of an inch long. My goal with these is to produce pieces that I can just add to a sauce while it is cooking. I could go all fancy and freeze these pieces individually on a cookie sheet then bag them, but I have found that freezing them in a flattened bag works just as well. I just give the bag a sharp whack on my counter and the pieces will break apart and I can pour out as much as I need. (I do the same thing with celery, too)
I then drained and rinsed the bulbs. I removed the thicker outside pieces and sliced the middle in half lengthwise:
I cut this part into crosswise slices about a quarter of an inch thick to add to sliced onions when I make my fennel and onion chicken. I put each half of a bulb into a quart zip top freezer bag. I also put the sliced stems into the same type of freezer bags. After removing as much air as possible, I just flattened the bags as much as I could and put them into the freezer.
The thicker outer part I simply sliced into pieces about a quarter of an inch thick and bagged them up. I plan to use these in sauces or dishes that will cook longer since they are a little tougher than the center. They have wonderful flavor.
Now, for the ticklish part, the fronds: while I was chopping the rest of the fennel I put the huge clump of fronds into my dishpan with a little vinegar and a lot of cold water. I let them soak for about fifteen minutes. It is a lot like washing someone’s hair… I decided that the best way to handle them was to use my Oxo salad spinner. I pulled the fronds out and let the drain in the insert of the spinner while I put fresh water in the dishpan. I put the fronds through two rinses then I took out a few handfuls at a time and used the spinner to get out as much water as I could.
I let the huge pile of fronds drain on kitchen towels for a time then I stuffed handfuls into quart zip top freezer bags. The easiest way I have found to remove most of the air from these bags is to close the top all except maybe an inch. Put the filled bag on a counter and roll the bag from the bottom, squeezing out as much air as possible. Then seal the last inch of the top of the bag while it is still rolled up. Then bag can be flattened and it will have a vacuum around the food. When I want to use the fennel fronds I simply open the bag over the food that I want to add it to and use my kitchen shears to snip the fronds. I can reseal the bag with the unused portion and put it back into the freezer.
Oh, and I did keep one bulb out to share with a friend and to use for a salad. Raw fennel is a real treat. It has a mild licorice flavor that is not overwhelming at all.