There’s nothing like the chill of late autumn days to draw me into the kitchen by the warmth of the oven and simmering pots on the stovetop. With Thanksgiving has come a burst of cool weather here in Wisconsin…later this week it’s supposed to be in the thirties for a high. Alas, I’m convinced. Winter is most certainly on it’s way!
Though Thanksgiving has passed and we’re now looking on to Christmas, I’m still in love with the flavors of fall. Chilly days and chillier nights cause me to turn to the sweetness of apples and yams, the earthy qualities of rosemary and thyme, and the spicy heat of chilies and peppers to warm up my suppers. The rich and hearty flavors of autumn seem to warm me from the inside out, which is just the sort of thing I need this time of year.
I’m trying not to overdo soups and stews at dinner (although I love them dearly!), as we have a long winter ahead of us and I know that I’ll be making plenty of them in the coming months. Instead, I’m trying to channel that same heartiness and warmth into other recipes that–while autumnal and delicious–aren’t always stews, soups, and casseroles.
In my efforts to broaden my recipe repitoire, I’ve come up with this one for sauteed fennel, leeks, and apples. It’s a perfect side dish for any roasted meat or poultry, but I particularly like it with salmon. I typically serve it by arranging it on a serving platter and using the sweet sauteed mixture as a bed for the fish. The slight crunch of the apples and fennel combined with the flaky fish is a very tasteful textural contrast, one that I’m glad to have discovered. I’ve made this recipe several times now and I think it will become a winter “go-to” for me.
So as the days get cooler and the nights grow longer still, I’ll be spending my late afternoons in the kitchen testing and tasting new recipes and savoring old favorites. And I just may be hovering over a skillet full of this delicious fennel mixture, too, because I’m quite confident that it is rising to “favorite” status. Try it, and I hope you’ll agree.
Sauteed Fennel, Leeks, and Apples
(For a photo tutorial of how to trim, quarter, core, and slice a fennel bulb, see below.)
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 medium-large bulb of fennel, trimmed, quartered, cored, and sliced*
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced lengthwise into thin strips (or substitute a good handful of sliced red onion)
1/2 sweet apple, such as Gala or Fuji, peeled and thinly sliced
Handful of raisins
2-3 tbs. white wine vinegar
1 tbs. honey
Salt to taste
Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add fennel seeds, fennel, and leeks. Cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add apple and cook until slightly softened, another 4-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is just tender to bite and leeks are golden–about 6-8 minutes more.
Remove from heat. Stir in raisins, vinegar, honey, and salt to taste. Serve immediately.
How to Prepare a Fennel Bulb
First, trim off the leafy top and root ends.
Then cut the bulb in half lengthwise.
Then cut each half in half lengthwise so that you end up with four quarters.
Place each quarter cut side down and cut into them on an angle to remove the cores. Discard cores.
Slice each bulb crosswise into thin slices about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Voila! You’ve got perfectly sliced fennel!