Fennel is a squat, bulbous vegetable which looks like cross between a celery heart and an onion. It has a sweet, anise-like flavour and its fronds resemble dill. Fronds are edible, by the way. So are the seeds. Fennel grows in abundance in the Mediterranean region, and is thus used widely in Italian cuisine. With its aromatic flavour and crunchiness, fennel adds flavour and texture to many dishes.
Choose ones with fresh-looking bright green feather-like leaves and rigid, crisp stalks. The bulb should be pearly white.
How to Store
Place unwashed fennel in a plastic bag and store in crisper section of your refrigerator. Use within a few days.
How to Prepare
Both the celery-like bulb and the feathery green top (fronds) can be cooked and served in a variety of ways. Wash and trim off hard outside stalks and coarse part of top. The fennel bulb can be cut lengthwise in halves or quarters, cut into strips, sliced, or diced. To shave fennel, use a mandolin. If not using immediately, store sliced fennel in water with lemon juice to prevent discolouration.
How to Cook
To cook fennel, put the cut bulb into a small amount of boiling salted water. Cover and cook until just tender (about 8 to 10 minutes for halves or quarters, or 5 to 8 minutes for sliced or diced fennel) and then drain. Fennel can also be sautéed and grilled.
The feathery fronds of fennel add both colour and flavour when chopped and added to dishes. They need to be added at the end of cooking, though.
Where to Use
Fennel can be used in soups, stews, raw in salads, baked in gratins or vegetable bakes, stir-fries and in side dishes. It can also be served raw in sticks on a relish dish and used with a dip for an appetiser.
More serving ideas for fennel:
• The raw pieces served with blue cheese is an especially good flavour combination.
• Cooked fennel can be seasoned with melted butter, salt and pepper, to which some of the green fennel top has been added and served as a side dish.
• For a shaved fennel salad, combine shaved fennel with coarsely chopped fennel fronds and lemon rind cut into julienne, scatter with shaved parmesan, season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
• For a vegetable accompaniment, trim tops from baby fennel and slice bulbs lengthwise into 1 cm thick slices. Dust fennel slices in a mixture of plain flour and fine yellow polenta, shallow-fry in olive oil until golden, then drain on absorbent paper. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.
Fennel is one of those vegetables that every last bit has its uses, like its seeds. In India, the seeds are an essential ingredient of the Bengali spice mix, panch phoran, and candy-coated fennel seeds are used as a breath freshener! It is also used in Asian cooking as part of the Chinese five-spice powder. The interesting thing about it is panch phoran means “five-spice” 🙂
• To make panch phoran, combine 3 teaspoon each of brown mustard seeds and nigella seeds with 2 teaspoon cumin and 1 tsp each of fenugreek and fennel seeds. Store in an airtight jar. To use, fry whole spices in a little oil until fragrant, or dry-fry, then grind. Panch phoran can be used to flavour rice and sprinkled over crisp fried potatoes.
Fennel goes nicely with these ingredients:
• Extra virgin olive oil
• Cheeses like feta, blue cheese, Italian hard cheeses like parmesan, Gorgonzola and goat’s cheese
• Brussels sprouts
• Semi dried tomatoes
• Hard-boiled eggs
• Pomegranate and pomegranate molasses
• Nuts like hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts or nut oils like hazelnut, peanut pistachio, walnut
• Bitter salad leaves like watercress, radicchio or rocket (arugula)
Fennel belongs to the parsley family and is a great source of dietary fibre and minerals and is a rich source of vitamins. Fennel is also an abundant source of folate (folic acid).