Great Fennel Experiment--Veggie Prep, Part 2

Guest Post by Alexandra 

Certified Personal Trainer and dancer-with-a-day-job who blogs about health, fitness, and ballroom dancing at Ombailamos.

Sometimes, being purely ignorant can lead to interesting discoveries.  The key is to not quit after you realize you don't know what you're doing.
I had in mind to do something with leeks.  I'd been watching the Food Network, and something came up with leeks that sounded really tasty, so when I was at the wonderful supermarket in West Hollywood I thought, Let me see if they have some leeks so I can play around a little.  Well ... okay, I had a general idea what a leek ought to look like, but I had never bought any before.  So when the things in the leek bin didn't quite meet my expectations, I went ahead and bought them anyway.
After getting home, I took another look at what I had and thought, That just really doesn't look like a leek ought to look!  So I pulled out the grocery receipt, and ... yep.  Not leeks.  What I had was sweet anise, a.k.a. fennel.
Fennel?!  What was I going to do with that?  I had to hit the Epicurious.
After reading a few recipes, I got an idea of what I could expect from this mysterious vegetable.  I decided to try a basic saute of thinly-sliced fennel and sweet onion.  I had two large fennel bulbs, and to balance that I used one large Walla Walla onion.  These were sauteed in a combination of butter and olive oil until the onion became translucent.  I added white pepper, dry mustard, and thyme - not even a quarter teaspoon of each; just enough to add some sharpness, a little bite, and a little herbal quality.
I had tasted the fennel raw, by the way, and found it not unlike a mild radish; crisp and faintly peppery, but with a distinct underlying sweetness.  I suspected this would come out more strongly when it was cooked, and I was right.  Bearing this in mind, I thought the combination of fennel and onion would be perfect for a parmesan cream sauce.  And I just happened to have some fresh grated parmesan and some heavy cream.  I added a little less than a cup of cream and a half cup of grated parmesan and heated through on low, stirring often, until the cheese was thoroughly incorporated.
This dish took about thirty minutes to put together from start to finish, which is not insignificant, but not impossible for a weeknight; especially given that my protein preparations are generally less than twenty minutes, easily accomplished while the vegetables were cooking.  I really liked it and would definitely recommend it as a zero-starch substitute for a creamy pasta.

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