All About Fennel
Fennel is a white bulb topped with long stalks with green feathery fronds. Fennel is sometimes confused with anise. Though they both have a licorice flavor, they are completely different plants. The entire fennel vegetable can be eaten including bulb, stalk, and fronds. With anise, usually only the seeds are eaten.
Look for firm bulbs that are heavy for their size with no blemishes, such as soft or brown spots. The fronds, if still attached, should be bright green and not wilted.
To store, remove the stalks from the bulb and store separately. Each part can be stored in plastic or paper bags in the refrigerator and should last about one week. Another non-plastic alternative is to store the fennel upright on the counter in a cup of water. The sooner you use it, the more crisp and flavorful the fennel will be.
Braising, roasting, grilling, and sautéing are all wonderful ways to cook fennel. Fennel can also be enjoyed raw.
Prepare the fennel bulb by removing any discolored outer layers as well as the tough inner core. The bulb can then be sliced crosswise or chopped.
If you plan to grill the fennel, it is better not to remove the core so the slices don't fall apart. For grilling, I usually slice the fennel lengthwise into thick (1/2-inch) planks, brush them with olive oil, season with salt & pepper, and grill until tender.
Featured Recipe: Fennel, Cowpea Side Dish (to serve with grilled shrimp)
Southern field peas, more commonly called “cowpeas,” comprise an entire subset of the legume family. The colloquial term comes from old farming practices in which hay from the pea harvest was left in the field for grazing cattle. Shade and drought tolerant, cowpeas were intercropped with rice, corn, and wheat, and played a subtle but vital role supplying nitrogen to the soil. This system of using cowpeas in rotation and intercropping was African-inspired and became the basis for sustainable rice horticulture on the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina. (Source, Anson Mills)
The cowpea is well known to farmers as an excellent cover crop. They are “the most productive heat adapted legume used agronomically in the U.S.” (Read more here.)
So, EAT YOUR COVERCROPS!
I buy mine from an organic source in Charleston, but cowpeas should be more available in stores everywhere (and you can get them online)!
1-2 bulbs of fennel diced into ¼ “ cubes (-ish) – yield about 2 cups
1 cup cooked cowpeas, chilled
8 cherry tomatoes quartered
1 ear of corn, cooked, kernels scraped and cooled
2 tablespoon diced raw red onion
2 teaspoon chopped fennel greens or fresh dill
Juice of 3 key limes (at least 2 tablespoons)
¼ fresh peppery extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
½ tsp fine sea salt
Mix it all up and let sit about 10 minutes.
Pepper: Add just before serving. I recommend the green of a jalapeno or hatch peer, a teaspoon of Urfa pepper or a 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder sprinkled on top. Choose the pepper that compliments your meal and palate or one that will broaden your spice horizon.
I recommend if you want to prep it all in advance, hold off on mixing and adding lime, EVOO and salt until you are ready to eat.
- The grilled shrimp should be simple. Fresh, EVOO, crunchy salt and lime slices tossed on a hot grill.
- A nice piece of halibut would be wonderful as well, but good, sustainable halibut is a bit harder to find.
- Key limes are juicy and a wee bit sweet – best option.
- You can substitute tomatoes for red pepper. Frankly, any substitute will do as long as it adds a visual contrast and you are willing to eat it (or at least serve it).
- If you do not know Urfa pepper, get some!
Tina Jaillet is a Lexington resident and LexFarm founding member. She has boundless interests yet sharing foods with loved ones is a daily pursuit. Tina volunteers for the LexFarm educational committee.
More Ideas for Fennel
Combine roasted fennel and white beans for a savory dip.
To preserve fennel for longer enjoyment, pickled or sweet-and-sour fennel is delicious.
Fennel complements shrimp and cucumber in this salad
Cooked low and slow, fennel marmalade can top grilled fish, rice, or bruschetta. It also freezes well. Or try homemade fennel mustard.
Add fennel to vegetable fried rice.
A classic treatment is to make a salad with shaved fennel as the star. There are many different combinations, depending on your mood and what else you have on hand. Possibilities include fennel salad with bread crumbs, walnuts, and anchovy vinaigrette, cucumbers, roasted chickpeas, fava beans, or radishes.
For a one-bowl dinner, serve sautéed fennel over farro with kale and roasted cauliflower.
Add to a vegetarian pan bagnat (the Provençal sandwich reminiscent of salade niçoise on a roll).
Fennel adds interesting flavor to soup (if it's not too hot to cook) combined with zucchini, roasted carrots, or leeks and potatoes. Another idea is a pot of lemony avgolemono thickened with eggs.
The bulbs can be candied and used to top an upside-down cake, a semolina cake, or a lemon tart.
USING THE WHOLE VEGETABLE
Don't discard the stalks! Candy them to make a surprisingly delicious snack. And save the syrup to add to seltzer or imaginative mocktails or cocktails, such as this fennel-apple spritzer.
The stalks with their feathery fronds make a great bed for grilled or roasted fish.
Fennel fronds can be chopped and used as you would other fresh herbs. You can also try pesto made from fennel fronds.
For even more ideas, check out these fennel recipe roundups from Huffington Post, Martha Stewart, and Real Simple.