Fennel

 

Fennel is a beautiful thing. Not only is it gorgeous to look at (the bulb, stems, leaves and flowers), it is fragrant, full of taste and can be used in many ways.

 

The bulb and stems are reminiscent of celery, but the feathery plumes remind me of dill. A member of the parsley family (along with anise, dill, cumin and caraway), fennel has a versatile licorice flavor, which can be used in teas, broths, sauces, salads and sautés. I love to use the seeds as a spice in home made marinara.

Fennel is largely cultivated, for its fruits (or seeds) in the Mediterranean, Russia, India and Persia. It was formerly popular to boil Fennel with all fish, and it was mainly cultivated in kitchen gardens for this purpose. Its leaves are served nowadays with salmon, to correct its oily indigestibility. The seeds are used for flavoring and the oil that is distilled from them, is use in cordials and liqueurs, and in perfume, toothpaste and soap.

Tea can be made with a few fresh sprigs or a teaspoon of seeds to relieve indigestion and gas. Fennel is good for respiratory congestion and is a common ingredient in cough remedies. You can also chew the seeds as a breath freshener. Fennel is an antioxidant, reduces inflammation and can help prevent the occurrence of cancer. It also contains a lot of vitamin C which is antimicrobial and is also needed for the proper function of the immune system, which is helpful for preventing recurrent ear infections in people who are prone to getting them. A high intake of vitamin C is associated with a decreased risk of atherosclerosis, colon cancer, and the complications of diabetes, such as nerve damage and diabetic heart disease.

Fleas, supposedly, don’t like fennel so in powdered form it’s sometimes used in kennels and stables. Who knew?

GROWING:

Seeds should be sown directly in the garden in the late spring in ordinary soil. It likes sun and can do well in dry spells without heavy manure, but does better on rich stiff soil. Seedlings do not transplant well. The deep taproots are difficult to pull up, so remove unwanted seedlings while young. The plant will self-sow generously. To maintain a continuous supply of fresh leaves throughout the season, sow a few seeds every 10 days. If seeds are not desired, remove flowerheads to promote bushier growth. Fennel can be grown as an annual, although the established roots will overwinter easily.

 

PREPARATION TIPS:

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 jullienned 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.

 

Since it’s in season now, here are a few quick things to try:

 

1.  Braised Fennel: one of the simplest, yet most effective ways of cooking fennel is to braise it. Cut the bulbs in quarters, from tip to root, and remove just enough of the core, so that the quarters still hold together. Melt some butter in a frying pan, add the fennel plus about 150ml chicken or vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper, cover and braise for 20-25 minutes until tender. Nice with fish or pork.

2. Fennel and Watercress Salad: for a quick, refreshing salad, slice a bulb of fennel as thinly as you can. Save the soft green fronds for a garnish. Make a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss together, along with watercress or lamb’s lettuce. For a fancier salad, use half walnut oil, half sunflower oil, along with the lemon juice, and include roasted, chopped walnuts.

3.  Fennel Soup: always satisfying:

  • Ingredients: 1 bulb fennel (leaves removed and reserved and chopped)

  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 pint vegetable stock
  • butter or olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • salt
  • pepper
  • double cream (optional)
  • In a large pan, sauté the onions in the butter/oil for five minutes. Add the fennel and garlic and sauté gently for a further five minutes. Pour on the stock, so that it just covers the vegetables, and add the tarragon and turmeric. Season to taste. Simmer gently for half an hour, until the fennel is tender. Remove the soup from the heat and puree into a smooth thick soup. Add am, if desired. Serve garnished with the reserved fennel leaves.