One nice thing about working from home is that I have the luxury to go the store pretty much whenever I want. As you might imagine, I try to go when there aren’t a lot of people there.
The downside of this flexible schedule is that it has made me a pretty lazy meal planner. Because I can go to the store every day, I do go to the store every day. Sometimes multiple stores…
The people all know me now at the local spot as the weird 20-something guy who shops only when retired people shop.
I think they like me though because I bring them lots of strange ingredients. I have a knack for finding weird stuff they didn’t even know they had in their own store.
On this day, that ingredient was fennel thanks to the poll last week when an appetizer won. There was a pristine row of fennel bulbs in my local store. Untouched.
The check-out person didn’t even know what they were, let alone the look up code. When he asked me what they tasted like I blurted out, “It’s like licorice celery.”
He replied, “That sounds horrible.”
I almost brought him some of this dip just to redeem fennel in his mind after my apparently gross description!
1) Chop stems and roots off of fennel, leaving just the bulbs.
2) Wash bulbs well and quarter them.
3) Heat oil in an oven safe skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the fennel quarters and sear on each side for 3 minutes per side.
4) Add garlic cloves (whole, but peeled) to the pan. Sprinkle on some salt and cover the pan with foil. If you don't have an oven-safe skillet, you can transfer all of this to a baking dish.
5) Bake the fennel and garlic at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the fennel is very tender.
6) Transfer fennel and garlic to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add other ingredients (reserve 2 tablespoons of cheese for topping) and continue to pulse until everything is combined.
7) Butter a 3 cup baking dish and transfer the dip to the dish. Sprinkle on remaining cheese and salt and pepper.
8) Bake dish again for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
9) Serve dip with thick crackers or crusty bread.
Adapted from a Martha recipe.
Fennel is kind of a strange vegetable. It’s looks like what would happen if you stuck celery and dill in some sort of nuclear chamber and fused the two together.
It’s delicious stuff though and I love cooking with it every chance I get.
What I love about fennel is its light flavor. It smells pretty strongly of anise, but once you roast it down, it completely mellows out. It still has a subtle licorice flavor, but it’s very light.
Mixed with a few other ingredients, I think it makes a really solid dip.
Prepping fennel can be a pain if you’re doing something fancy with it. For this recipe though, just chop off the stalks and the root tips and give them a good rinse.
Quarter the fennel next and toss the fennel quarters into a pan with a good drizzle of olive oil. If you have an oven-safe pan, that would work best since we are going to transfer these to the oven after a quick sear.
Just heat the skillet over medium-high heat until the fennel lightly caramelizes, about 5 minutes.
After that, go ahead and add a few whole garlic cloves to the dish along with a good pinch of salt.
Cover this entire thing with foil and roast it at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. The fennel will get super-tender.
This will also make your house smell like a licorice factory and a garlic farm had a baby.
Besides the fennel and garlic, there’s only a few other ingredients that you need.
The half and half (or cream if you want to get crazy) is important as it gives the dip a really smooth texture. The honey gives the dip some sweetness which is nice and the Parmesan cheese gives it some saltiness and, well, cheesiness which is always good for a dip.
Basically, just throw all of this stuff in a blender or food processor and pulse it until it’s a smooth consistency. I recommend tasting it at this point and adjusting for salt and pepper. It might need a bit more cream or honey. Just use your best taste bud judgement.
NOTE: If you don’t have a food processor, I still think you can make this dip. The fennel bulbs are so tender after roasting that I think you could just mash them with a fork and the stir everything together. It might be a bit more rustic, but I think it would work fine.
When you think it’s ready, pour it into a lightly buttered baking dish and sprinkle on a bit more Parmesan cheese.
Bake this bad boy at 400 degrees for another 20 minutes and you’ll be left with this thing of beauty.
Those almost burned bits around the edges are my favorite part. They are crunchy and delicious.
Serve this warm with crackers or nice crusty bread.
Why did I pick this as a Thanksgiving Appetizer?
Well, for one, you can make it in advance. Two, although it does have a bit of cream in it, it’s actually a really light dip. The flavors are completely refreshing and palate cleansing so I thought it would work well as a snack before the big meal.
It’s definitely a unique dip and one that I bet most of your guests haven’t had.