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.
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.
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.
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.
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.