Cotolette di Finocchi (Fennel Cutlets with Crunchy Breadcrumbs)
Fennel is a much beloved vegetable across Italy and even more in Sicily where, not only do we use the bulb in salads and cooked dishes, but also use the leaves and seeds in many of our traditional recipes.
Back home, our cuisine still follows seasonality of ingredients - something that is sadly being lost in big cities, where globalisation has made ingredients available throughout the year. For this reason, in Italy fennels are almost exclusively eaten between December and April, when they are in season.
The fleshy fennel bulb, called heart (the white part) is delicious eaten raw, and in Sicily we make my absolute favourite salad - fennel and oranges - with it.
The leafy parts of the plant, also known as finocchietto selvatico (wild fennel), grow spontaneously along the Mediterranean coasts and have a very distinctive sweet and anise-like flavour. We use them to flavour dishes such as soups, make a wonderful pesto, or with seafood dishes.
For those who haven't tried, fennel has a wonderfully refreshing taste, crunchy texture and multiple organoleptic properties: full of vitamins and mineral salts, extremely low in calories, fennel helps digestion, and it's great for detoxing.
One of my favourite ways of eating fennel is this crunchy breaded cutlet. It's a very simple recipe that makes for a great vegetarian main or side dish. The cutlets can be pan fried or baked for a lighter version, and you can easily make them vegan with a couple of ingredient swaps.
Ingredients (for 4)
2 fennel bulbs
Grated parmigiano (or any sharp cheese, omit for vegan version)
Finely chopped parsley
A handful of finely chopped capers
4 tbsp of flour (any kind)
2 eggs (replace with a batter of flour and water in equal parts for eggless/vegan version)
1 tbsp white vinegar
Sunflower or peanut oil for pan-frying or baking
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water to boil and add the vinegar to it. In the meantime, slice the fennel bulbs lengthwise into 1cm thick slices and when the water boils, plunge them in and cook for about 1-2 minutes until slightly softened but still crunchy. Pat dry on kitchen paper and set aside.
Arrange the flour in a shallow plate. The beaten eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper, in another. Mix the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, parsley, capers and a pinch of salt in a third plate.
Coat each slice of fennel in the flour first, then the eggs, and lastly the breadcrumb mixture. Repeat step 2 and 3 for a thicker coating.
Pan fry the cutlets in oil on each side for a couple of minutes, or bake them at 180C for 15-20 minutes, turning them halfway through.
Serve with your favourite dipping sauce or with a simple salad.