This aromatic vegetable can be added to salads, side dishes, and main courses -- or served by itself.
What Is Fennel?
Fennel is easily identifiable: It has a fat white bulb (like an onion) and a feathery top of green stalks and fluffy fronds (though some grocers cut these parts off). For a hint of the flavor to come, take a sniff. Often likened in taste to licorice, fennel is in fact far more subtle with a texture similar to celery, and, unlike licorice, the flavor is savory, not sweet. Raw, fennel is cool and crunchy. Cooked, fennel turns mellow and the flesh softens; it is perfect as a side dish for fish or chicken and a wonderful addition to pasta or gratins.
Also Known As...
Fennel is sometimes mistaken for anise (fennel does belong to the same plant family, but anise is an herb). It is also called finocchio, which alludes to its common use in Italian cooking.
What to Look For
Inspect the bulb: It should be firm and greenish white, not shriveled or browned. If fronds are still attached to the stalks, they should be bright green with no signs of wilting.
How to Trim and Core
Whether served raw or cooked, fennel bulbs must be trimmed first. Cut the stalks from the top of the bulb, then remove any tough outer layers. Some recipes call for the removal of the triangular core. This can easily be done with a paring knife.
Using Fronds and Stalks
Fennel trimmings don't have to be thrown away. Sprinkled fronds are regularly used as a garnish for soups, stews, and pastas. The stalks add flavor to stocks or roasted poultry or fish (stuff them into the cavity).
How to Store
Wrapped in a paper bag and refrigerated, fennel can last three to five days. But, as bulbs tend to dry out over time, it's best to use them as soon as possible.