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Fresh Fennel

Posted by by Wendy Frytak, FoodE Expert, Lunds Ford Parkway
Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is there a more Daliesque vegetable than fennel? A mad mishmash of celery stalks and fresh feathery dill protrude from a bulbous base resembling Karl Malden’s nose. Plus, it smells and lasts like sweet licorice. Crazy, cool...huh?

Its taste and appearance may be surreal, but fennel is one of my favorite cool weather veggies. Its celery-like crunch and sweet, delicate licorice flavor add character to raw salads Fennel, Prosciutto, Piave & Pomegranate Salad; Arugula,Citrus and Fennel Salad. If you prefer a creamier texture and sweeter, mellower flavor, simply sauté or braise it for use in soups, sauces Fennel-Almond Pesto with Seared Chicken and side dishes San Marzano Braised Fennel.

Florence fennel is the variety of fresh fennel sold in supermarkets. All parts of the plant-bulbs, stalks and leaves are edible. The stalks are primarily used as a flavoring ingredient in stocks, soups and sauces and the fronds as a garnish or chopped as a fresh herb. Fennel seeds derived from the wild fennel variety flavor drinks, confections or savory dishes like Italian sausage, meatballs and rye breads. Unknown in America until ten years ago, fennel pollen¬–the yellowish dust from the plant’s blossoms is a 5-star chef’s darling and is now a staple of upscale groceries and spice retailers.

I eat a lot of Mediterranean and Asian food because of their liberal use of fresh produce; fennel figures particularly prominently in the regional cuisines of both areas. Italians eat thinly sliced raw fennel with a dash of salt and maybe a little drizzle of olive oil for a quick appetizer or at the end of the meal as a digestive aid. Fennel seed is one of five spices that make up the ubiquitous Chinese five-spice powder and is an essential ingredient in Indian spice mixtures. The ancient Greeks and Romans revered fennel so much it was their symbol of victory and success.

Fresh fennel is available year round but is at its best from autumn through early spring. You may substitute it for celery in most recipes. Fennel pairs particularly well with seafood, poultry, pork, citrus and other common ingredients from the Mediterranean and Asia. Look for bulbs with a nice whitish or pale green color and no bruising or brown spots; avoid those with wilted stalks or fronds. Plant should also have a fresh, clean scent.

Store fresh fennel up to 1 week in the refrigerator. To prepare, cut off the stalks and tough stem at the base. Cut bulb in half; remove the harder core in the center of bulb. Rinse with water and cut as desired. Store fennel seeds for up to 6 months in an airtight container in cool, dry location.

When it comes to trying unique, exotic or unfamiliar foods, I try and follow the brilliant Mark Twain’s advice that “you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.” So, take a chance and give fennel a try. It’s worth it.

Any ideas or simple recipes for using fennel? We would love to hear from you.

Tags: fennel

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