Fennel is such a beautiful vegetable. As you walk between the rows of fennel in the field, you can’t help but run your hand over the soft, feathery fronds. You’ll definitely be able to identify fennel from other vegetables in your box this week as it has both a unique appearance as well as a distinct aroma. Most of the fennel plant is edible, however the white bulb at the base of the plant is the most commonly used part. The soft, fine, feathery green portion extending off the stalks is what we refer to as the “fronds.” The fronds are also edible and can be used more as an herb, seasoning or garnish to add a bit of flavor to soups, salads, flat breads, pizza, beverages, etc. The stalks are often too fibrous to eat, however they have a lot of flavor in them and can be added to simmering soups, stocks, etc. If left to continue growing, a fennel plant will eventually produce seed and fennel pollen which can both be used in cooking as well.
Fennel has the flavor of anise, or mild licorice. The bulb is crisp and sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw fennel should be sliced paper thin and can be used to make a quick summer salad such as the recipe featured in the newsletter this week. Fennel contains a volatile oil called anethole which is responsible for its licorice flavor and aroma. When sautéed, roasted or otherwise cooked, the oils volatilize which lessens the intensity of the flavor and the sugars in the vegetable start to caramelize. Thus, cooking mellows and sweetens the flavor while the color changes from bright white to a golden hue. I’d encourage those who may not care for the intense flavor or raw fennel to try it in its cooked form. You might find you actually like it!
Fennel is often used in gratins, cream soups, seafood dishes, simple salads and antipasto platters. It pairs well with a whole host of other foods including lemons, oranges, apples, honey, white wine, olives, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, fish, seafood, pork, cured meats, beans, cream, Parmesan cheese, feta cheese, cucumbers, dill and parsley.
Fennel has a lot of beneficial health properties as well. It is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C & A. The volatile oil I mentioned earlier, anethole, has been shown to reduce inflammation and help prevent some cancers. It is also a natural digestive and breath freshener.
Fennel should be stored in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in plastic. When you are ready to use it, you may need to peel off the outer layer of the bulb. Cut the bulb in half and make a V-shaped cut into the core at the base of the fennel bulb. Remove most of the core, then slice thinly or cut as desired.
Shaved Fennel Salad
Recipe featured on 101cookbooks.com by Heidi SwansonServes 4-6
1 medium-large zucchini, sliced into paper thin coins
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and shaved paper-thin
⅔ cup loosely chopped fresh dill
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
fine grain sea salt
4 or 5 generous handfuls arugula
Honey, if needed
½ cup pine nuts, toasted (may substitute almonds)
⅓ cup feta cheese, crumbled
- Combine the zucchini, fennel and dill in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice, olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Set aside and marinate for 20 minutes, or up to an hour.
- When you are ready to serve the salad, put the arugula in a large bowl. Scoop all of the zucchini and fennel onto the arugula, and pour most of the lemon juice dressing on top of that. Toss gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust with more of the dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, or salt if needed. If the lemons were particularly tart, you may need to counter the pucker-factor by adding a tiny drizzle of honey into the salad at this point. Let your taste buds guide you.
- Serve topped with pine nuts and feta.
Recipe featured on food52.com
Yield: 2 drinks
1 ½ tsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar
4 ice cubes
1 inch fresh fennel
1 can club soda or ginger ale
2 short stalks fresh fennel for garnish
10 frozen blueberries
3 ounces gin (optional)
- Skin cucumber, cut into 4 chunks, and toss into blender.
- Add lime juice, apple cider vinegar, ice, and 1-inch fresh fennel. Add gin if using. Blend until smooth and foamy, about 2 minutes. Don’t be tempted to add more liquid unless your cucumber is exceptionally dry and it refuses to blend. (In which case add a dash of soda.)
- Share the cucumber mix between two glasses, adding either club soda or ginger ale in a 1:1 ratio. Add 5 frozen blueberries to each glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh fennel.