The Wonders of Fennel

Apr 20, 2023 | Recipes

You’re likely familiar with how to use carrots, and perhaps even your children enjoy kale. However, fennel might be a mystery to some of you. Allow me to introduce you to this delightful vegetable!! Once you understand its versatility, you’ll eagerly include fennel in your weekly meals, seeing it as a friendly addition rather than a dreaded bulb.

Every part of the fennel plant—from the root to the stem and the flower—is edible. Fennel usually has three key components: the bulb, stalks, and feathery fronds. As a relative of parsley and carrots, fennel imparts a fresh, herby flavor to any dish, whether raw or cooked. In its raw form, fennel has a mild anise taste, which might deter licorice skeptics. However, when cooked, its flavor becomes milder, sweeter, and softer. Often found in Italian and French cuisine, sautéed fennel with onions, garlic, and perhaps peppers or celery yields a sweet and silky base to build upon.

Fennel typically appears during early fall and again briefly in spring, just before temperatures soar. In the cooler months, fennel pairs beautifully with Texas citrus like grapefruit and blood oranges. In spring, it adds a refreshing crunch to roasted beet salads, serving as a precursor to cucumbers and basil.

Raw Fennel: To enjoy fennel raw, thinly slice the bulb with a sharp knife or mandolin. If not using immediately, store the sliced fennel in a sealed container filled with water (and a squeeze of lemon) in the fridge to maintain its crispiness. Shaved fennel is an excellent base for any salad or slaw—combine it with thinly sliced cabbage, radishes, and fresh herbs for a coleslaw variation or with sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, and a creamy dressing for another twist. Memorable salads can include fennel with apples and remoulade, or roasted beets, fennel, avocado, and sliced grapefruit. The key to enjoying raw fennel is slicing it thinly. Sprinkle raw fennel fronds atop dishes as a substitute for fresh dill, parsley, or cilantro, and use fennel flowers as garnishes if available.

Cooked Fennel: Cooked fennel (along with parmesan and good olive oil) might just be the secret ingredient that makes Italian food irresistible. Dice fennel bulbs and sauté with onions and garlic for soups or braises, or simply roast quartered bulbs with other root vegetables. Serve roasted fennel on its own or toss with a simple vinaigrette to garnish a salad. Alternatively, slice the bulb into thin strips and add to stir-fries or fajitas. Caramelized fennel becomes silky and soft, blending seamlessly into dishes like pasta and imparting a deep, warm, and sweet flavor. Don’t stress about dicing the vegetable perfectly—just remove the tough core, though even that is technically edible.

Fancy Fronds: Treat fennel fronds like any other fresh herb. Finely dice them to garnish cooked dishes or salads or blend them into pesto or pistou. For a refreshing drink, try making fennel tea using a French press, sweetened with honey (and mint, if available).

Fennel Stems: Don’t overlook fennel stems. Use the stems of young, small fennel as a celery substitute. Finely chop

A few fennel recipes to get you started:

Cheesy Garlicky Roasted Fennel Pasta

Roasted Fennel Pasta with Ricotta

Caramelized Fennel on Herbed Polenta

Olive Oil Braised Spring Vegetables

Shaved Fennel Salad

Apple-Fennel Remoulade

Perfect Roasted Fennel