Have you tried fennel, specifically fennel bulb?
Until the last few weeks my experience with fennel has been limited to fennel seeds in Italian sausages, Indian dishes and a sliced fennel salad in a fancy restaurant several years ago . It’s high time to explore this unique looking and tasting veggie a little more!
What is Fennel?
Fennel is a perennial vegetable that is native to the Mediterranean area. It is part of the Apiaceae Family that also includes carrots, dill, parsley, coriander, caraway, parsnips, etc. While sometimes labelled as “Anise” in grocery stores, fennel and anise are not the same thing. Both have that licorice like flavor, but they are two different plants.
Fennel plants grow a bulbous base above the ground with tall feathery fronds shooting up 2 to 4 feet depending on variety. Some fennel varieties grown specifically for its fronds and seeds may grow up to 8 feet tall – an impressive backdrop for any garden.
Every part of the plant can be used – the bulb, feathery fronds, stalks, seeds and even the pollen or flower heads. Fennel is quite popular in Indian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, North African and European cuisine.
The bulb can be eaten raw, sauteed, roasted, baked or in soups and stews. The stalks are added to soups and stews for flavor while the fronds are added to dressings and salads for flavor and garnishes.
How to Select Fennel Bulbs
Fennel bulbs are in peak season from late autumn to early spring. To select the best bulbs…
- look for large, tight bulbs that are white or pale green
- avoid bulbs that have any signs of splitting, bruising or spotting
- check the fronds to ensure there are no signs of flower heads – a sign that the fennel has bolted and passed its optimum maturity
- look at the root bottom, it should have very little browning and you should see a solid root end covering most of the bottom (like the root end of celery or romaine lettuce)
Take a look at the fennel in the photo below. This is exactly how I bought it. What do you see?
There are several tell tale signs that this fennel is beyond fresh. Old fennel is still safe to eat, but it will have lost some of its flavor and nutritional value. Here’s what’s wrong…
- The root end is dry with quite a bit of brown.
- The root plate that should be covering most of the bottom is only in the center, leaving at least two layers of fennel exposed.
- A piece of broken plastic is embedded in the root end. That piece of plastic used to hold the product label that gives the PLU code and country of origin. It was probably cut or broken off when the root end was cut.
- The bulb is unusually small for fennel, almost as if several layers have been removed.
I suspect this fennel bulb has been stripped and cut to remove outer layers that may not have looked fresh any more. The product label and root end certainly look like they have been cut off. If you see tell tale signs like this, you’re best bet is to skip the fennel. How about a nice spinach salad instead!
How to Store Fennel
To store fennel, trim the fronds to two or three inches above the bulb (if not already done). Wrap loosely in a plastic bag and store in the fridge for 5 days or 10 days if you’re getting fennel direct from the garden or farmer.
How to Cut Fennel
Fennel can be cut in different ways depending on the recipe – quartered, wedged, julienned (thin strips), diced or sliced.
To begin, cut the stalks off the bulb. If the bulb is very wobbly, cut the bulb in half first to give you a stable surface.
Remove the core at the root end.
For very thin slices, make thin horizontal cuts from the top of the bulb to the root end.
For julienne strips, make evenly spaced cuts vertically through the bulb. Cut these strips into small pieces for diced fennel.
For thicker wedges, cut each half in half again, repeat until you get the desired thickness.
Fennel Recipes to Try
For You Gardeners – Can I Grow Fennel in My Garden?
As a perennial, fennel requires a Zone 6 or higher to grow. It is a cool weather crop that requires careful watering and will bolt quickly if temperatures get too hot.
Some varieties mature within 65 days, which means it can also be grown as an annual in Zones 2 to 6. That’s great news for us Northern Gardeners. Personally, I think those feathery fronds would make an attractive addition to flower beds as well as vegetable gardens.
Thanks to the Canadian Home Economics Foundation for its support in helping me share ideas for making home cooking easy and enjoyable. Testing and trying various recipes – some which never get posted – takes a lot of time and product. The Foundation’s support makes it possible for me to test various foods without the pressure of corporate sponsors that desire a certain outcome!
Here’s me on CTV Morning Live doing a little fennel demo.
Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.