In Season: Use fresh fennel in winter salad

  • C. W. Cameron
  • For the AJC
12:00 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 Food
CONTRIBUTED BY ISABELLA STRONG

Christi Hansen and Matthew Bagshaw are the farmers of Hungry Heart Farm in Conley, just south of I-285 near Moreland Avenue. They began farming their one-and-a-half acres about two years ago when Mary Rigdon of Decimal Place Farm agreed to lease part of her land.

“When Mary agreed to lease the land, it meant we could begin our vegetable farm without having to buy land. We have an outdoor kitchen on the farm where teach classes and a mobile kitchen I can take for demos at places like the Jonesboro Farmers Market, Agnes Scott College and Piedmont Henry Hospital.” She also does demos at the Green Market at Piedmont Park and uses the demonstration kitchen there.

The majority of their land is devoted to the crops they need for their community-supported agriculture, or CSA, restaurant clients and PeachDish meal kits.

Their winter CSA runs from January through March with pickups every other week either at Gaia Gardens in Decatur or at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. The spring session will begin in April and run for 16 weeks. Information can be found at www.loveislovefarm.com/what-is-a-csa.

Hansen also has an experimental section at the farm where she grows things that she’s interested in, but that aren’t part of what’s needed for their CSA and restaurant clients. Last year she planted fennel and it grew really well. She grew it because she’s a big fan of fennel with its anise-like flavor.

So the couple took a chance and made a larger fennel planting this year. They planted Florence fennel in early October and November and harvested their first very small bulbs early in January. The plants did fine under their snow cover during the early part of January but when temperatures dropped to the teens, the plants were “zapped.” So the lessons learned during last year’s balmy winter didn’t transfer perfectly for this year’s extra-cold temperatures. Ready to start again, they planted more fennel in their greenhouse in January.

But that doesn’t dampen Hansen’s enthusiasm. “I really like fennel at this time of year because it’s so fresh tasting. You can eat it raw. You can eat it cooked. I like to cook it so it caramelizes and that brings out the sweetness. It keeps great when refrigerated and being able to make a bright crunchy raw salad in winter is a treat. I think it goes well with fish, eggs and citrus which are all things I like. So I planted it because I love it but it did so well we thought our customers would like it, too.”

To get the most out of your fennel, she suggests slicing the bulbs for salads or for cooking and chopping the fronds into chicken salad to use sprinkle over cured or poached fish. “It looks nice and it tastes good.”

Beet and Fennel Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Farmer Christi Hansen of Hungry Heart Farm is also a registered dietitian nutritionist and created this recipe for our readers. “It’s a wonderful refreshing salad for the middle of winter.”

She suggests that if you don’t want a crunchy salad, you could roast the fennel and beets and then dress them with the vinaigrette and top with Decimal Place goat cheese.