Fennel is indiginous to the Mediterranean and is widely cultivated all over the world. It grows well here in the Bay Area, our climate being distinctively Mediterranean, and is drought resistant in addition to low maintence. It benefits from rich soil with only ocassional watering, and while there are many varieties of fennel available, the most commonly used for cooking is Florence fennel. I don’t grow it here but I have some friends around town who have it in their gardens and are happy to trade. Garden grown fennel takes the flavor to 11 compared to fennel bought in the market.
Fennel needs 100 days to mature, like full sun, and does best when it matures in cool weather. Sow it in mid-summer in order to have it mature in October, or even November. The plants grow to about 24″ tall and can tolerate planting close together, which is good because you are going for the bulb. You can also grow fennel in containers!
This dish is a personal favorite. It is a great testament to sous vide technique, taking a vegetable and cooking it to perfection before it hits the grill for finishing. The result is something that would not be possible with tradtional techniques. You can grill fennel but you can’t slice a fennel bulb down the long axis and grill it to a succulent result without it falling apart on the grill. This technique ensures that the fennel will be perfectly cooked and still intact.
For the fennel:
- Heat water bath to 170 degrees.
- Slice a fennel bulb down the long axis. Eyeball your cut to go through the stem core.
- Vacuum bag the halves (together is fine) with salt and olive oil.
- Place in water for 4 hours.
- Remove from water and grill on a pre-heated grill until you have satisfactory grill marks.
For the salsa:
- Dice 1/2 of a red onion
- Add 1/3 cup red cider vinegar to diced onion and let it rest for 20 minutes
- Add 1 1/2 cups of sliced cherry tomatoes (I didn’t have any cherry tomatoes so I used some small San Marzano tomatoes as a substitute).
- 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste