Vegetable: fennel gives its seeds, leaves, bulb & branche

Yield: 1 servings

Measure Ingredient


Wild fennel, also known as common fennel, is magnificent--its airy plumes of rich green leaves can grow 5 feet tall. This is the fennel that gives us abundant leaves and aromatic seeds for cooking.

However, the stalks at the base of common fennel, which wrap around one another to form a bulb, are tough and the bulb itself is skimpy.

Common fennel is regarded as a seasoning herb.

For a vegetable, Mother Nature gave us Florence fennel. These plants may not provide delicious seeds and may not grow nearly as tall as its dramatic cousins, but Florence is the fennel with a plump, snowy bulb. Florence is the fennel bulb that adds sweetness to salads, soups and other vegetables, and complements every fish and seafood imaginable.

MEET THE FENNEL FAMILY There are more members of the fennel family, and it's good to know them, otherwise you may send for seeds and find yourself growing a different fennel from the one you had in mind.

Sweet fennel is close to common--it has no bulb to speak of but is endowed with large, fragrant seeds. Bronze fennel is a form of common fennel with an unusual color--the leaves all but disappear in afternoon sunlight.

The fennel plant is a perennial. Normally, it grows to just this side of adulthood the first year, then the second year it matures and flowers.

But Florence fennel can be temperamental. If it isn't happy with its circumstances, it will flower without even bothering to form a bulb--this makes every part but the flowers and leaves inedible. The cultivar Zefa Fino was developed by Swiss breeders not to flower prematurely. Should flower stalks appear even so, nip them out.

While common, sweet and bronze fennels can thrive on poor soil; prima donna Florence wants fertile, moist soil. If you haven't room in the garden, Florence fennel is handsome in a 5 to 6 gallon pot.

SERVE AS HORS D'OEUVRE Florence fennel has an almost exotic flavor in its licoriceness. It's wonderful as part of an hors d'oeuvres selection--cut bulbs lengthwise into slender chunks as you would celer, letting the core hold a number of pieces together. Serve witha pot of coarse salt on the side. Or offer a shallow dish of pinzimonio, which is simply your finest olive oil seasoned with a speck of salt and freshly ground black pepper and served as a dip for raw vegetables.

Fennel seeds have a smokier character than the flavor of Florence's bulb. Harvest seeds when they start turning brown. Cut the clusters off the branches and spread them on a cloth to dry in a warm, dark, dry place (this will take a couple of weeks). Rub the seeds off the stems and transfer them to a dark glass jar. Cover airtight and store with other dried condiments in a cool, dark, dry place.

Fennel seeds make bread special. Try mixing a tablespoon into your favorite dough. Or brush storebought French or Italian bread with beaten egg, sprinkle fennel seeds over the top, and bake until the egg sets and the seeds are stuck in place. Fennel seeds are what give fresh Italian sausage its zing. SUBLIME IN SOUP Prepare a sophisticated first course soup by combining sliced fennel, onions, unsalted butter, and virgin olive oil thoroughly and baking in the oven at 375 degrees until tender and slightly carmelized. Add chicken and beef broth blended with water and Pernod liqueur, and bake at 325 degrees another hour.

The liqueur Pernod is clear and greeny yellow, the color of fennel's blossoms. Anise-flavored, it gives a dish with fennel delicious depth--and a splash stands in for fresh fennel in all sorts of Mediterranean compositions. Pernod is costly, but keeps indefinitely at room temperature.

Fo an easy cold-weather come-for-soup invitation, complete the meal with bowls of baby carrots, Kalamata olives, a room temperature salad of cooked dried white beans dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, a plate of paper thin slices of pepperoni or other not-too-spicy dried sausage and a basket of bread sticks.

Source: FOODday/The Oregonian, by Sylvia Thompson Typed by Dorothy Flatman, 1995

Submitted By DOROTHY FLATMAN On 02-08-95

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