Summer Is An Herb's Best Friend

Here we are in mid July already! I am an endless summer girl and just love the sun, heat and wonderful things that are being harvested from farms and gardens right now. I wish summer was nine months long, with one month each for the other three seasons!

Summer and herbs just go together well, and there are so many types that you can grow in your backyard, patio or even windowsill. Fresh herbs make recipes taste more vibrant and are great to have around for soups, stews, omelets and salads, even a cocktail.

In picking a place to grow your herbs, keep in mind that they need a good four to six hours of sun daily. There are many herbs that you can grow to enhance your cooking. When planting, step out of your comfort zone and try to grow something funky and unfamiliar to jazz up your routine.

(Photo by Gloria Weg)

I usually plant basil, parsley and mint. They are easy and low-maintenance herbs. However, I think I am going to grow fennel next summer simply because I haven't done it before.

Fennel is an underrated herb and member of the carrot family. Interestingly, however, it is not considered a root vegetable like its orange cousin. Originally from the Mediterranean area, fennel is now grown in many parts of the world.

Its long stalks weave together to form a thick, crisp bulb that grows above ground. Above the bulb, at the tip of the stalks, it has light, feathery leaves that resemble dill. When it goes to seed, fennel also produces small yellow flowers among the leaves. Every part of it is edible, from the bulb to the flowers, and it can be eaten raw or cooked.

The stalks and leaves are edible, but fennel recipes most often call for the bulb. When raw, it has a crisp texture similar to celery and a fresh licorice flavor. It caramelizes as it cooks, taking on a sweeter flavor.

The tops, or fronds, are great additions to soups, salads, stews and pasta. Just mince them and toss into your dish.

Fennel is healthy and high in nutrients such as dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Check out this list to see how great this herb is: “10 Science-Based Benefits of Fennel and Fennel Seeds.”

From “Bounty from the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook,” by Mi Ae Lipe, we have a recipe that incorporates fennel, which some of you may have picked up this past week.

CSA member Marianne Wagner made this dish and said:

“I sautéed the spinach crumbles added the fennel and the beans similar to the recipe in the book, however, I made pasta as a side/underneath dish.”

(Photo by Marianne Wagner)

Fennel, Sausage, and White Bean Hash

Serves 2

By Lisa Gordanier

Source Note: Fennel and sausage—two foods born to be together—form the

major flavor components of this dish, while filling, creamy cannellini beans

make a perfect bridge between the two. We like to make this recipe heavy on

the fresh fennel and slightly lighter on the sausage. (Italian sausage usually

contains fennel seeds, so it’s a natural choice, but any tasty sausage—pork,

chicken, or even vegetarian—will work great.) This hash can come together

in a jiffy on a weeknight. Add a refreshing green salad to complement the

bold flavors of the hash—and don’t cheat yourself by skipping the crusty toast!

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large fennel bulb (about 10 ounces)

2 links fresh Italian sausage, or 5 ounces fresh bulk sausage

1 cup cooked or canned white beans, such as cannellini, drained

2 to 3 green onions, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley or other fresh herbs

2 tablespoons cream, sour cream, or yogurt (optional)

2 thick slices crusty Italian or sourdough bread

1. If there are still feathery green fronds attached to the fennel bulb,

cut them off and chop them for later use. Trim away any dried or

brown areas. If the outer surface of the bulb seems fibrous, use a

vegetable peeler to remove some of it; this will make that outer

layer much more tender and usable. Cut the bulb into quarters and

remove the inner core that keeps all the leaves attached (it’s great for

munching). Slice the fennel into long strips.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Remove

the sausage from its casings and crumble it into the pan, spreading

the pieces so they cook evenly. Cook without moving the sausage for

several minutes, until one side has a crispy brown crust. Add all of

the fennel and stir. Continue cooking until the fennel has softened

about halfway.

3. Meanwhile, butter or oil the bread slices. Toast them (your oven

broiler works great for this) until the top side is golden and crunchy.

Set aside and keep warm.

4. Add the cannellini beans and green onions to the pan; stir to com


Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until all the ingredients

are hot and the fennel has softened a bit more. Add the parsley

and fennel fronds. If you’d like to add more moisture and richness,

add the cream. Place a piece of the crusty toasted bread on each

plate and spoon the hash on top.

Here is a bit of a gothic quote by the amazing author Shirley Jackson:

“We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it."

Continue to send me your recipes, photos and ideas at:

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