Get to know this delicious and versatile fall vegetable.
Fennel might be the most overlooked vegetable on the fall farmers’ market table. (Aside from poor kohlrabi.) It’s funny looking. It comes with a mass of ferny foliage that sheds fronds all over the kitchen. It tastes like licorice.
Except that it doesn’t. (This endorsement of fennel comes from a girl who cannot abide black licorice.) Fennel has a pleasant anise flavor: bright, lightly sweet, with notes of citrus. Equally delicious raw and cooked, fennel pairs well with tomato, bitter-ish greens like arugula, and orange.
There are two varieties of fennel: Culinary fennel is grown to produce a fat, crisp bulb at ground level (that’s it at right). As an herb, it is grown for seed, which is dried and used whole or crushed in cooking. Fennel is challenging to cultivate, as the seedlings are delicate and susceptible to wind and water. So if you find it at an Ohio Valley farmers’ market this season, bring home a bulb (and thank your farmer for her efforts).
Choosing & Cleaning fennel
When shopping for fennel, choose a large, firm bulb that’s relatively free of bruising or brown spots. Give it a rinse, then lop off the thick stems and foliage (saving those for other use; more on that in a moment). Trim off the root end, then cut the bulb in half vertically. Look for a triangular shaped core, and trim that out.
Cooking with fennel
Thinly slice raw fennel using a knife or mandoline. Toss with a generous pinch of salt, pepper, high-quality olive oil, and lemon juice for a simple salad. Or combine with like-textured ingredients like thinly sliced celery and/or apple. Add to a niçoise salad. Raw fennel also works well with endive, radicchio, and arugula. Create a platter of sliced fennel, oranges, and grapefruit, drizzled with olive oil and fresh orange juice.
Fennel is also delicious roasted to bring out its sweetness. Toss cubes or wedges of fennel with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at fairly high heat (400°) until tender. Puree roasted fennel and roasted tomatoes with vegetable broth for a flavorful soup. Bake wedges of fennel with butter and breadcrumbs for a gratin.
Make a delicious vegetable broth: Combine sliced fennel with its fronds, celery, carrots, and leek with water to cover in a large stock pot and simmer briskly for two hours.
Or try this fennel-centric recipe for homemade gin.
Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.