Hi Guys! Growing up I hated the taste of anything black licorice….like REALLY hated. I think it all started when my family and I were walking out of a restaurant that offered those candies in the front that look like teensy, misshaped m&m’s, but that are actually candy coated sunflower seeds, sometimes flavored with black licorice. I eagerly spooned a big pile into my hand, leaned my head back, opened wide, and down my piehole they went. One minute later I was coughing up and choking on seeds, candy coating and the powerful taste of black licorice….NOT teeny-tiny m&m’s. Now, when you’re expecting smooth, creamy milk chocolate and you unexpectedly get a giant mouthful of licorice….major vom.
Anyway, that experience pretty much scarred me for life and I had kept away from black licorice-like things ever since….that is until I attended culinary school. We were working with fennel one day, which I had already deemed as foul, grossy-grossness. My chef knew about my aversion to licorice/anise like things and introduced me to grilled fennel, finished with a star anise gastrique…so pretty much a heaping mouthful of stuff I didn’t like…licorice on licorice, great. I took one bite and my mind was blown. I didn’t need the giant glass of water I had prepped for when I would presumably begin to choke! I actually LOVED it! Grilling the fennel brought out the natural sweetness and adding an acid to the anise sauce really softened the intense flavor. These days I love all things with the flavor of anise/black licorice…except the candy. I still cant handle that stuff, but I do love cooking/baking with star anise and well as eating fennel in a variety of ways. My favorite way is still grilling them, which is what we have for you today! Grilled fennel tarts! These little guys are so simple and really delicious. The cheese and herb spread on the bottom has just enough richness to cut through the strong fennel flavor, but doesn’t overbear it. They’re great appetizers for get-togethers, but what I really like doing is pairing the tarts with a simple mixed greens salad and enjoying it as a light meal. I hope everyone has a great weekend…perhaps making and eating some grilled fennel tarts?! :) Enjoy! xx, Jenny
Grilled Fennel Tarts
Serves 4 to 6
2 medium fennel bulbs (with fronds intact)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 ounces Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
1 ounce mascarpone, softened
2 teaspoons oregano, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 lemon, zested
2 sheets puff pastry, cut into 2″ x 5” rectangles
salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Thinly slice fennel heads into 1/2 inch slices (lengthwise) and cut each piece in half. Brush each piece of fennel with oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat a grill or grill pan over high heat and lightly grease. Grill fennel for about 3 minutes on each side or until nicely charred and softened. Remove from heat and allow fennel pieces to cool.
4. In a small bowl combine Gruyere, mascarpone, oregano, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper and mash together with the back of a fork until fully combined.
5. Spread a small amount of the cheese mixture over each piece of puff pastry, leaving the outer 1/4 inch perimeter bare.
6. Top each rectangle of cheese spread puff pastry with a piece of grilled fennel and gently press down. Place each tart onto a baking sheet, lined with parchment, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fennel begins to caramelize and the puff pastry turns golden brown.
7. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.