I was bringing my daughter home from the library when I noticed a bag of fennel bulbs on a low wall near the school. They had been out in the rain all day, so I decided to salvage them. When my fourth-grader visited the community farm with his school, he brought samples home every week. I knew that if I didn’t rescue them, no one else would.
Fennel is a green bulb with interlocking layers. The texture is similar to onion or celery. The delicate green fronds are delicious in salad and taste like licorice. The taste is mild, although not to everyone’s liking.
The fennel I got was full of the sand it had been planted in. Soaking didn’t help, and may have made the situation worse. While I would have liked to roast them or chop them whole, I had to separate the layers to remove all the dirt. To separate layers, make a vertical slice through the middle. or cut off the bottom layer to keep the layers, that are rounded, in one piece. Rinse off your knife in either case.
As you can see from the picture, some of the outer leaves were damaged. These can be used for soup stock. The inside layers were smooth, and the stalk and fronds, pictured above, were sweet and fresh. The frond take like licorice. There is a subset of people who strongly dislike the flavor, but a commenter writes: “I can’t stand fresh fennel and roasted fennel in olive oil is my favorite food. Fennel turns into something else entirely when you roast it.”
You can also grow fennel yourself, or forage for it.
When fennel is in season, we buy one or two at a time. Now I had about 8, so I turned to the Cooking Manager council on the Facebook fan page. Here are some ideas I collected:
How to use fennel:
- Toss into a salad. Fennel is wonderful raw, especially the green fronds. Add lemon juice, fresh herbs and salt. Or add to potato salad for an unusual twist.
- Roast. This was the most popular suggestion. Roast them whole or in pieces, with a drizzle of olive oil until they are brown.
- Saute A reader pointed out that they are good anytime a recipe calls for celery or onions, like in pilafs, grains, or stir-fries.
- Cook with fish. Apparently, fennel and fish make a good pair. Here’s a recipe to try: Sea Bass and Spicy Tomato Sauce Over Braised Fennel.
- Make soup. Kelli suggested roasting fennel and tomato, then adding water and basil for a tasty soup. You can also use fennel to flavor most kinds of vegetable or meat soups.
- Quiche. I added some to a vegetable quiche, and my kids were none the wiser.
- Patties. Add fennel the next time you make vegetable or meat patties.
- Grill. Fennel can work on a kebab, too.
I used some of the fennels I salvaged for quiche, roasting, and salad, and still have two left to play with. Be careful when looking for recipes as many call for dried fennel seed, available in your spice section.
Thanks to Miriam, Kate, Kelli, Ayala, Ditza and Yosefa for the ideas.
How do you use fennel?
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