Fennel is reliable. It's reliable-looking, for one: it sits on a sturdy, bulbous base and boasts welcoming green fronds and, if in the wild, tiny yellow flowers. It also possesses a reliable flavor: it'll welcome you back each time you use it, comfortable, secure, and unwavering in its flavor. And finally, you can rely on fennel for its multipurpose u, as a feature or an accent to your other foods.
Fennel is a perennial herb that's grown mainly in the Mediterranean and India. First referred to as "marathon" by the ancient Greeks and later used against witchcraft in medieval times, fennel is high in Vitamin C, potassium, and dietary fiber. Fennel's flavor, a distinct liquorice, comes from the anethole compound, which is also found in anise and star anise, which is why one is often mistaken for the other. The one you'll find most often in your local supermarket is known as florence fennel.
Fennel is primarily used either for its "bulb," a tightly-grouped bunch of leaves (large shards are pulled off to be used in soups or salads), its fronds (sprinkled onto salads and entrees as an accent) and as an herb to flavor dishes in its seed form. It is also one of the primary ingredients in absinthe. Even the pollen from fennel's delicate yellow flowers are used in cooking, though they are quite expensive. It is often used as a breath freshener, and is said to have medicinal qualities, used for everything from preventing jaundice to aiding digestion (it can be used as a diuretic) to staunching coughs.
How to feature fennel in your meals:
- Here a quick tutorial with photos on how to slice a fennel "bulb"
- ...and here's a minute-long video about how to slice the stalks and use the fronds.
- Kit over at Kitchen Notes has some awesome tips on how to prepare fennel, as well as a super-simple recipe for Shaved Fennel Salad with mushrooms and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The Boston Globe also featured a fennel salad recently with apple and arugula.
- Roasted fennel is delicious accompaniment to any dish, or great on its own. Here's how to make it.
- NPR's Kitchen Window features recipes like Fennel and Pomegranate Salad and Fennel and Sausage Pasta.
- Toss some fennel into Couscous with Red Peppers and Garlic for a hearty winter meal.
- Here's a fantastically delicious recipe for Fennel Mashed Potatoes, courtesy of Bon Appetit magazine.
- Fennel is also a fantastic addition to hearty baked goods - try these Fennel and Coarse Salt Breadsticks from Gourmet magazine.