Our trees burst into color last week and have been raining down on us ever since. Here at peak autumn, I’m excited to share with you my fixation for this season: the flavors of fennel and anise.
Wait, don’t leave.
What even is fennel?
Bulb fennel tastes like anise but looks like a cross between onion, celery, and dill. Your local grocery store might even claim, unhelpfully, that it is anise. It isn’t.
But like the star anise you’d find in the spice aisle, a fennel bulb has a luxurious licorice fragrance that’s incredibly versatile, despite being relentlessly demeaned by gross black jelly beans and Twizzlers.
Steep some star anise in store-bought beef broth, and you’ve got the foundation for a weeknight pho-style noodle soup. Add ground anise to spice up chocolate cookies with salted caramel chips. Fennel bulb shavings contribute crunch to a simple green salad with mustard vinaigrette and dried cranberries. And those wispy fronds, which don’t have an overwhelming flavor, are a pretty garnish for almost any seasonal dish.
Roasted Sausage and Fennel with Orange
As a fennel convert, I discovered its ultimate fruit partner only last month, in Bon Appetit‘s recipe for Roasted Sausage and Fennel with Orange. In days past, I would’ve given this dish a hard pass for the offense of featuring weird fennel in the title.
Which would’ve been a shame, because the recipe advertises that “this sheet-pan sausage dinner is here for you when doing a pile of dishes isn’t on your to-do list.” Sign me up, along with every other parent I know. But as if that weren’t enough, the execution here is also super easy. Another bonus: The less popular ingredients, like weird fennel, are easy to quarantine on the sheet pan if you’re feeding people with less adventurous palates. At my house, it’s the onions that are confined to their own half of the pan.
I commend you to the original recipe, with a few notes.
Vegetables: Before slicing, I carve the base out of the fennel bulb. And although red onions are more visually appealing, the mix of roasted vegetables tasted better to me when I used a sweet onion instead.
Oil: Use a very light hand to avoid soggy vegetables, especially since the sausage lying on top may also impart some moisture.
Roast: I’m often guilty of ignoring oven-positioning instructions, but take this one seriously. You want your sausages to brown without overcooking the vegetables, and the top of the oven will give you the best results.
Oranges: Using a couple of the clementines that I always have around at this time of year is easier for me than buying a navel orange and carving out the segments, as the recipe instructs. Instead, I just slice one clementine and juice another, combining both with the red wine vinegar. If you want to accommodate anyone who won’t like the roasted veggies, you could also set aside some extra oranges and fennel fronds as a fresh alternative.
In any case, don’t skip that drizzle of orange juice to finish the roast before serving. As Ina Garten says, it’s those fresh last-minute touches that make our taste buds sit up and pay attention. The juice will brighten the overall flavor in a way the orange segments by themselves can’t do.
This sausage and fennel dish goes nicely with crusty bread, mashed potatoes, or roasted parsnips.
On a recent trip to the liquor store, I picked up a bottle of amaro on a whim. A bit of research suggested that the best immediate use for my new Italian liqueur would be to mix it with bourbon in a Black Manhattan. It’s a stronger version of my usual Old-Fashioned, which was quite appropriate on Election Night this week.
Courtesy of David Lebovitz: In a cocktail shaker, combine two ounces of bourbon, one ounce of Averna amaro, two dashes of bitters, and some ice cubes. Shake for 20 seconds, or until chilled. Pour over a large ice cube in a rocks glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. Sip. Relax.