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Spring greens everything up in April, bringing welcome fresh growth. Foragers search the woods for wild ramps and mushrooms. And I search stores for one of my favorite vegetables: Snow white, frond-sy fennel. I’ll never forget buying it one April at the outdoor market stalls in Palermo, Italy, where fennel is called, “Finocchio.” I’ve long loved the anise-like taste and crunch of it raw, but when roasted, fennel sheds that licorice flavor to become lusciously sweet and caramelly.
Paired with the sexy silkiness of exotic mushrooms, nutty farro, zesty lemon and fresh snipped parsley, this warm bowl is delicious on its own, or as a side dish. I like to serve it with a drizzle of balsamic syrup and smattering of shaved parmesan. I made this with an assortment of beautiful exotic mushrooms (Lion’s Mane, Oyster and Chestnut) grown at Windy City Mushrooms, and available for pick-up at the Village Farmstand in Evanston, but sub in any tender fresh mushrooms you like.
Fennel, Farro + Mushrooms
- 1 cup organic farro
- 2 tsp salt, divided
- 2 to 3 fennel bulbs, cores discarded, bulbs sliced into small pieces to make 3 cups (Save a few fronds for garnish)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Zest from 1 lemon
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (or more, to taste)
- ½ cup small diced yellow onion, OR shallot
- 3 cups fresh exotic mushrooms (oyster, chestnut, Lion’s Mane), cleaned and sliced into small pieces OR substitute mix of cremini and shiitake mushrooms
- 2 cups fresh parsley leaves, minced
- ¼ cup shaved parmesan
- Balsamic glaze (store bought), as desired
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare farro in a rice cooker (3 cups water to 1 cup farro) OR prepare farro on stovetop as follows: In a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, bring 2 quarts water to a boil with 1 tsp salt. Add 1 cup farro and return hot water to boiling. Reduce heat to medium and boil farro, uncovered, about 30 minutes until soft. Drain off water. Place farro in large bowl. Finely grate the zest of one lemon into the farro. Squeeze 2 teaspoons of juice from half of the lemon into the farro. Add 2 Tbsp of the olive oil. Stir. Set aside.
- In a large shallow bowl, toss fennel pieces with 2 Tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Spread fennel in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for ten minutes. Stir fennel pieces. Roast for another 10 minutes or until caramelized and crispy on the edges. Remove from oven. Scoop roasted fennel into the farro.
- In a sauté pan over medium low heat, add remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil and slivered onion or shallot. Cook for three minutes, stirring. Add ½ cup water and continue cooking until onion is quite soft. Add sliced mushrooms and continue cooking until soft and no water remains in the mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in minced parsley. Scoop mixture into the bowl of farro. Stir to combine. Adjust seasoning with more lemon juice, salt and pepper if desired.
- Place in serving bowl (or bowls); top with shaved parmesan and drizzle with small amount of balsamic glaze. Serve warm.
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