The other day, I bought fresh fennel at the grocery store.


Fresh fennel, if you’re not familiar with it, is awkward and big, not unlike many of us were when we were back in junior high. Undeterred by the way my two bulbs wouldn’t fit inside a standard produce bag, their dill-like fronds poking out on top, I carried those towering bodies proudly to the checkout line, along with the other items in my cart. Then, I took them home to Tim, laying their bodies across our cutting board, where, together, we deconstructed them, like vegetable surgeons working as a team: The tops, we chopped for garnishes. The stems, we boiled into broth. The bulbs, we cut to wedges and sidled along onions to cook slowly on the stove. An hour or so later, in return for all these efforts, we ate the braised bulbs for dinner, and, as we did, I made a discovery. This past week, or specifically, this particular moment sitting across from Tim at the table with plates of fennel as our meal, I learned I hate, and I mean, hate, cooked fennel (or, at least, cooked fennel that tastes anything remotely like the version we made). Since there are weeks, nay, entire months, of my life where I can’t remember learning anything notable, particularly between the high school years of 1996 and 2000, I guess you could say this was not a complete waste of time.

Besides the cooked fennel, our kitchen has seen a revolving door of new recipes this last week: sesame tahini cookies, chocolate banana smoothies as thick as ice cream, homemade honey mustard with roasted sweet potatoes and a seriously unusual raw lemon tahini pie. Nothing was as shockingly memorable as that batch of fennel. Nothing was as good as this bruschetta.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

I’ve always liked bruschetta, probably because I’ve always liked bread. A popular antipasto with Italian origin, bruschetta today takes many forms: cherry bruschetta; strawberry bruschetta; tuna bruschetta; bruschetta with ricotto, lemon, basil and honey; bruschetta with fava beans, Pecorino and mint. Its most common form here in America revolves around tomatoes, garlic and basil, usually with some sweet and tangy balsamic drizzled on top. And this version, which Tim first made two Sundays ago and which we’ve eaten again two times since, takes that classic idea and blends it all together—quite literally, as in, in a blender, until what you have is a chunky, fragrant, fresh tomato sauce.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

To assemble the bruschetta, we toasted hefty slices of our favorite bread (a local spelt sourdough), topped them with generous spoonfuls of sauce and drizzled on the Trader Joe’s balsamic we like best. For a garnish, we added minced fresh fennel fronds, but you could add any fresh herb you like.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

The result is a bruschetta meets crostini meets tartine—a sturdy toast topped by a thick tomato sauce that’s never been cooked, stuffed with the combined flavors of tomato and basil and garlic in every bite. It’s both satisfying and incredibly fresh, filling yet somehow still light.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

And since we topped it with minced fresh fennel fronds, it might not be a reason to buy fennel, but it certainly is a legitimate use for the leftovers once you do.

Bruschetta Sauce with Balsamic & Fresh Fennel
Serves four or more

Although this post discusses the following recipe as a bruschetta, it’s mainly a recipe for a quick, back-pocket, no-cook sauce. We’ve only tested it on toast, but I’d love to try it with pasta or on pizza or spooned into tortillas during the week. If you find another interesting use for it, please do tell.

Slices of sturdy, crusty bread (we prefer sourdough), at least one per person
2 cups grape tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
A big handful of fresh basil (about 8 or 9 leaves)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Balsamic, to taste and for drizzling
Chopped fresh fennel greens, for garnish (or some other fresh herb, chopped fine)

Place bread in toaster or oven until crisp; set aside. Meanwhile, in a powerful blender or food processor, combine tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil; pulse a few times, just until chunky. Add salt and pepper and around a tablespoon of balsamic, to taste; blend again; taste; adjust if needed.

Spoon tomato sauce onto toasts, drizzle balsamic on top and sprinkle chopped fennel greens above that.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Kathryn

    I can’t stand fennel – it’s slightly better in raw form but it’s one of the few things that I actually can’t bring myself to eat. Bread and tomatoes and garlic on the other hand…

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Right? Why is bread so easy to love….

  2. alexandra @ sweet betweens [blog]

    I absolutely adore the honesty in this post! I sometimes get frustrated with food bloggers hopping on every flavor train out there and wonder if they truly really eat what they write and post to their blog. I, personally, will never ever eat beets or fennel again. I’ve given them a fair go in multiple formats and never found love. Or even tolerance! So I appreciate the breath of fresh air you bring to the whole ‘food blogging’ world. From the start, you’ve drawn me in with your writing. And you continue to keep me engaged and involved with post like these!

    Side note – love the recipe for fresh bruschetta topping! Can’t wait till my own garden is producing basil + tomatoes perfect for this.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Ha! You know, I want so much to like every food, but some ingredients don’t make it easy, haha! And Alexandra! A garden with basil and tomatoes! What a dream!

  3. Sophia

    I loved this post – especially as I did not see the hate of fennel coming! I very much agree with Alexandra’s comment as well that so many bloggers seem to embrace every single flavour combination which just seems weird and unrealistic above all. We can’t all love all of the strong flavours like smoked fish, fennel, anchovies, radishes etc.! Although, admittedly, I am sad you didn’t like the fennel – I used to hate it too but am now making up for almost an entire life of not eating fennel by picking up 1-2 bulbs every time I spot it in the supermarket. My favourite ways to eat it are:
    – thinly sliced (ideally with a mandoline) and served with some fresh mozzarella, a glug of good olive oil and sea salt on top;
    – thinly sliced and marinated in plenty of salt to soften, then, after the salt has been washed off and the fennel has been patted dry, dress with a glug of olive oil, some lime juice, sliced chilies, salt and pepper for a vegetarian twist on ceviche (perfect as a starter),
    – for sweet dishes, I like adding toasted ground fennel seeds to cookie dough or even to some cream to make a flavoured panna cotta or flavoured truffles (and they also worked a treat in a batch of brownies I made a while ago),
    – if you can ever embrace cooked fennel, then I can highly recommend Pasta Aglio et Olio with a small handful of sliced fennel stems thrown in with the garlic to cook until just al dente before adding the pasta. I also love pizza with thinly sliced fennel (letting the fennel cook and dry out slightly before adding the cheese) and risotto with sliced fennel. Oh and I definitely add some chopped fennel when I make Minestrone (actually the first dish I ate where I did not hate the fennel!).

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oooh, Sophia, I love all your ideas here! I will tell you that I already enjoy raw fennel in salads and boiled fennel in tea and have high hopes for our stock. I love anise and licorice, so I imagine I could like fennel in sweet dishes, too. And in minestrone! Great idea!

      But cooked fennel is only going to be tried again when someone else makes it for me, I think, ha! : ) Honestly, I don’t even blame the fennel. I hope with all my heart it wasn’t supposed to taste like that….

  4. Jacqui

    Is fennel the one that kind of has a licorice taste to it? Yeah, not into that. I was trying to think of foods I don’t like the other day, and I think fennel might be one of them. Also, black licorice. And bitter melon. But I love garlic and tomatoes and basil so these tomato toasts sound awesome!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Yes indeed! Although after I was done with it, it’s hard to say what exactly the taste it had was…. and haha, bitter melon! I’ve never tasted it, but that name just sounds bad!

  5. Kathryne

    I can’t say I have much experience with fennel at all! I bought my first bulb a couple weeks ago and used it raw in a quinoa salad that didn’t make it to the blog. I had some roasted fennel with other vegetables in this year’s homemade Valentine’s pasta and liked it. Not sure how I feel about braised. This bruschetta I would love, I’m sure!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Kathryne, I trust you enough to say that if you made roasted or braised fennel and liked it, I’d be willing to give it another go. : )

  6. Lindsey @ Pas de Deux

    I actually ate (and enjoyed!) braised fennel this morning… I made a version of Green Kitchen Stories’s Braised Fennel with Saffron and Tomato on Sunday, and enjoyed the leftovers today with spinach and scrambled eggs–my husband thought it smelled funny, though, so I get that braised fennel may not be for everyone. The bruschetta sounds great, though. I’ll definitely be bookmarking this recipe for later in the summer when the market (and maybe my own garden?!) is overflowing with tomatoes and basil!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      What a small world! I honestly love hearing all these interesting ideas for embracing fennel —I’m definitely willing, if not eager, haha!

  7. Marie @ Little Kitchie

    Not very into fennel either… I’ve tried making dishes with it a few times but always end up just eating around it in whatever dish I’ve put it in. But this sauce sounds delicious; is there a better combination than tomatoes, basil and balsamic?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Could not agree more!

  8. Golubka

    I love roasted fennel, although can’t stand the taste of licorice, which some people associate with fennel. I find the taste of roasted fennel very mild, not offensive at all. I hope that you’ll give it another chance sometime :-). Perhaps in a different recipe?
    Bruschetta sauce sounds delicious!

    1. Monika

      I agree with Golubka– give roasted fennel a try before you give up on the veggie completely! Remember those fennel “chips” I e-mailed you about a while ago, that converted my housemate from a fennel-hater to a fennel-lover??

      1. Shanna Mallon

        Anya and Monika, I promise I’m not giving roasted fennel the brush-off; I’m just saying we had a big fight last week and I need some time, haha… And Monika, those fennel chips still sound good to me! What is it about turning something into a chip that makes it taste better? Ha!

  9. Jess

    Shanna – this made me smile – I’m sending it to my husband (although he follows your blog himself these days). Frank studied abroad in Italy and remembers only amazingly delicious things from his time there except for a certain roast fennel dish that his host mother served all the time! He says he’s sworn off fennel, but I continue to think there might be *some* way to cook it that he would like.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      : ) Your comment made me smile! Vindication! Tell your husband thanks for me. : )

  10. Lindsey

    This looks fantastic, and has ignited my search for spelt sourdough in Seattle!

    A bit random, but always pertinent: how did you build this website? It’s beautiful, and I’m trying to design and build a more professional blog of my own which will go beyond the typical blogging templates.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh, thank you so much, Lindsey! If you knew how much time I spent wanting the blog to look a certain way (and then another certain way… ), you’d know just how much I treasure that compliment. : ) Tim and I put it together — it’s a premium WordPress theme (Hoarder) with a bunch of tweaks.

  11. Molly

    So sorry to hear you’re in a fight with fennel. Huge fans over here. Maybe this recipe will help?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Molly! Thank you so much for the link, especially because it pointed me to your site! I was reading and reading last night, thinking about you and your little baby. Glad to connect! -s

  12. Amy

    I am definitely not a fan of fennel either! I’ve tried it fresh, braised, and baked with olive oil, but I just can’t find a way to make it work.
    The bruschetta sauce looks amazing though! I’ll have to give it a try with some gluten free bread. Oh, and perhaps a glass of wine too :)

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Haha! Kindred spirit!

  13. Ricky Gray

    Ah, the bounty of summer. Italian bruschetta (pronounced “brusketta”) is a wonderful way to capture the flavors of ripe summer tomatoes, fresh garden basil, and garlic. I had this the other night at my friend Suzanne’s house where her friend Dee explained how to make it (thanks Dee!). I customized the recipe to my own taste (isn’t that almost always the case?) and used plum tomatoes and chopped them by hand, rather than in a food processor. My family enjoyed this batch for lunch, along with some cottage cheese.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Sounds wonderful, RIcky!

  14. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

    The only time I really liked fennel was caramelized with spices (an Ottolenghi recipe). I think it would be good pickled. But why try to eat something that you don´t particularly like when there are so many things! You´re not alone in your bruschetta love, it´s the perfect meal for me. And tomato basil is still one of the best. Have to try the balsamic reduction!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      haha! Paula, I like the way you think.

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