Fennel is fine with a little love

Braised fennel

Finished product: braised fennel. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / January 16, 2014)

Meh is having its moment, and it's about time. After all, it's February. The weather? Meh. The mood? Meh. Even the food, after the chocolates are gone, is lackluster. What thrives in February? Mittens. Which taste terrible.

It's the season to hand out candy hearts stamped "B Mine" or "So Fine." I've seen some that shrug: "Meh." Appropriate to the sweet, chalky pebbles.

Meh sums up February's poster vegetable: fennel. Who admires its pale color, bulbous figure and anise flavor? Not, I thought, me.

I avoided fennel. Too much like licorice, which isn't even good as candy. Then one night I delved into a rich fish dish. I spied the hostess in the kitchen, slyly sweeping away fennel fronds.

I started slipping wisps of fennel into my own salads and stews, and noticed that, when duped, my family approved. Finally I braved fennel at full force.

Browned in oil, braised in broth and brushed with butter, it was "So Fine." Fennel just needs a little love. Like the rest of us, in the month of meh.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

Twitter @leaheskin

Braised fennel

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

2 large fennel bulbs

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 1/4 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut up

Parmesan, carved into curls with a vegetable peeler

1. Slice: Trim away fennel stalks. Chop frilly green fronds to use later as garnish. Halve each bulb root to stalk, then cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges.

2. Brown: Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add fennel and cook, turning now and then, until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Stir in broth, salt and pepper.

3. Simmer: Cover, reduce heat and let simmer until fennel is tender, about 15 minutes.

4. Serve: Use a slotted spoon to move fennel to a serving platter. Add butter to pan; heat remaining liquid over medium-high until thick and shiny, about 2 minutes. Pour sauce over fennel. Garnish with Parmesan curls and reserved fronds.

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