Fennel

Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, adding a refreshing contribution to the ever popular Mediterranean cuisine. Most often associated with Italian cooking, be sure to add this to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best.

Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which closely superimposed stalks are arranged. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves near which flowers grow and produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.

Fennel's aromatic taste is unique, strikingly reminiscent of licorice and anise, so much so that fennel is often mistakenly referred to as anise in the marketplace. Fennel's texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy and striated texture.

The scientific name for fennel is Foeniculum vulgare.

Ever since ancient times, fennel has enjoyed a rich history. The ancient Greeks knew fennel by the name "marathron"; it grew in the field in which one of the great ancient battles was fought and which was subsequently named the Battle of Marathon after this revered plant. Fennel was also awarded to Pheidippides, the runner who delivered the news of the Persian invasion to Sparta. Greek myths also hold that knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal. Fennel was revered by the Greeks and the Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties.

Fennel has been grown throughout Europe, especially areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and the Near East since ancient times. Today, the United States, France, India and Russia are among the leading cultivators of fennel.

Storing and Cooking

Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator crisper, where it should keep fresh for about four days. Yet, it is best to consume fennel soon after purchase since as it ages, it tends to gradually lose its flavor. While fresh fennel can be frozen after first being blanched, it seems to lose much of its flavor during this process. Dried fennel seeds should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry location where they will keep for about six months. Storing fennel seeds in the refrigerator will help to keep them fresher longer.

The three different parts of fennel-the base, stalks and leaves-can all be used in cooking. Cut the stalks away from the bulb at the place where they meet. If you are not going to be using the intact bulb in a recipe, then first cut it in half, remove the base, and then rinse it with water before proceeding to cut it further. Fennel can be cut in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending upon the recipe and your personal preference. The best way to slice it is to do so vertically through the bulb. If your recipe requires chunked, diced or julienned fennel, it is best to first remove the harder core that resides in the center before cutting it. The stalks of the fennel can be used for soups, stocks and stews, while the leaves can be used as an herb seasoning.

Quick Serving Ideas:
  • Healthy sautéed fennel and onions make a wonderful side dish.
  • Combine sliced fennel with avocados, and oranges for a delightful salad.
  • Braised fennel is a wonderful complement to scallops.
  • Next time you are looking for a new way to adorn your sandwiches, consider adding sliced fennel in addition to the traditional toppings of lettuce and tomato.
  • Top thinly sliced fennel with plain yogurt and mint leaves.
  • Fennel is a match made in Heaven when served with salmon.
Fennel Recipes:

Basil, Fennel and Roasted Bell Pepper Soup

Fennel Green Beans

Did you know?

Organic farmers and experts in India organized to address the agriculture crisis facing the nation's 700 million farmers. Poor yields, degraded soils, and expensive chemical inputs arising from the cultivation of pesticide intensive crops, including genetically engineered cotton, have devastated India's rural economy. Crop failures and crushing debt led over 300 Indian farmers to commit suicide between May and July. To address this crisis, farmers from all over the country joined together August 2, 2006 to create the "Organic Vision 2020," a long term strategy to shift the country's farming focus back to ecological and traditional organic practices.

Quotes

"Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own."
~Samuel Johnson

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