A big bulb of frondy fennel walked into Trader Joe’s with some fat juicy Brats. Oh, actually, it was me who walked into Traders, and they who were serving a sauté of chicken sausage and slivered fennel, as a side dish.
They had me at the fennel part, but I tumbled further with the addition of the savory sausage.
I made a mental note of what they did and grabbed two fennel bulbs, quite serendipitously placed at the tasting table. It was late afternoon and I was thinking of dinner. I devoured my sample, wishing I could eat a plateful.
Fennel is one of those things I avoided for years; mainly because it had a licorice flavor, of which I’m not terribly fond. Then came the day that a friend/chef introduced me to a fall salad of apples, slivered fennel, walnuts and shaved Parmesan. That was all it took – trying it, like we often tell little kids.
A member of the carrot family, this flowering bulb has tall wispy fronds that resemble dill weed. It’s crunchy if served raw, with a taste reminiscent of licorice or anise. Fennel’s flavor mellows nicely when sautéed or braised with onions, carrots or added to a pot roast.
Returning home from the market, I took TJ’s nifty idea and played with it. I had Brats, onions and some leftover brown rice. Instead of having the fennel and sausage as a side dish, it was to be our entrée; therefore the addition of brown rice for more substance. Here’s my take on Trader Joe’s daily tasting:
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 large fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, save the green fronds for garnish
- 4 Brats sliced into 1 ½” chunks
- 1 ½ cups cooked brown rice or orzo
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil for the skillet
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat and swirl with olive oil to coat. Add sausage and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Toss in onion and fennel; allow to soften and caramelize. Add garlic and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Drizzle with maple syrup and stir in rice or orzo.
- Taste for salt and pepper and season appropriately. Sprinkle with reserved fennel fronds or in a pinch use Italian parsley for garnish.
While I preferred the nutty, earthiness of the brown rice when paired with the fennel and sausage, the orzo definitely took it to a heavenly Italianesque place. Try both, see what you think…and let me know.