Vegetable or Candy
I can never figure out if the fennel bulb is a vegetable or a candy, it tastes so much like the licorice I love.
Officially, it is a vegetable and since the first person ate it, plucked from the side of the road in ancient China, Egypt, and the Mediterranean where it grew wild, its reputation for being delicious and nutritious has never faltered.
Is it Italian or?
We think of it as being Italian in origin, which is absolutely incorrect but an acceptable mis-belief for the Romans brought it to England during ancient times, and our favorite provider of culinary wonders, Catherine de Medici, brought it along from Italy to France.
Best Raw and Cooked
It is as delicious raw as it is cooked, and in the spring when the bulbs are small and intensely flavored, it is perfect in a salad. Honoring its Mediterranean origins, it is often combined with anchovies and garlic, perfect foils for its sweetness. But there is so much more to be done with the fennel, from braising to roasting to steaming.
Stems, Fronds, Pollen, Seeds
And there is more to the fennel than its bulb. Stems are wonderful in a poultry or fish stock, a soup or even an omelet if minced fine. Its feathery fronds make a perfect garnish for seafood and a great addition to a green or potato salad, and the golden pollen acts like flavorful fairy dust, giving everything from fresh goat cheese to pasta a touch of its licorice flavor. As for the seeds, they enhance cornmeal preparations (cookies, cakes, breads), curries, focaccia, sausages, pates, roasts…the list is nearly endless.
Fennel is full of vitamin C, is said to be an antioxidant, and freshens the breath, the brain, the eyes, the mind. As if its gorgeous flavor and slight natural saltiness weren’t enough!
Spring and Fennel Hand in Hand
So hie thee off to the market. It’s spring and just the beginning of the fabulous fennel season.
SIMPLE FENNEL SALAD
- 3 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
- 1 clove garlic green germ removed, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or more to taste
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large or 3 small fennel bulbs trimmed and thinly sliced
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fennel fronds for garnish
- Place the anchovy fillets in a medium-sized bowl and crush them with a fork until they are almost a puree. Add the garlic and the lemon juice and whisk together then add the olive oil and whisk until combined. Add the sliced fennel and toss thoroughly, until all the fennel is coated with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper, taste, then add additional lemon juice if desired and toss again. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.
- 4 first course or side-dish servings