The vegetable fennel is closely related to
the herb and spice of the same name. It is called variously Florence
fennel, sweet fennel, finocchio dulce or Italian fennel. Like the
herb, Florence fennel has the distinct flavor of anise, a taste that
seems to go particularly well with fish, so the vegetable is often
served with fish dishes while the herb or spice is commonly used in fish
stocks, sauces or soups. The leaves are edible and can be used in soups
and stocks as well as for garnishing.
History : Florence fennel has only
been popular in Britain for the last 20 years plus, although it has a
long history of cultivation, having been eaten by the ancient Egyptians,
Greeks and Romans. In Italy, fennel has been eaten for several
centuries. Many of the best fennel recipes come from Italy and other
parts of the Mediterranean.
Buying and Storing : If possible, buy
small tender bulbs. The bulbs should be clean and white with no bruises
or blemishes and the feathery leaves should be green and lively. Fennel
will keep for a day or two in the salad drawer of the refrigerator.
Preparing : Unless the bulbs are very
young and tender, remove the first layer of skin, as it is likely to be
tough (this can be used for a stock). Fennel can then be sliced into
slivers by cutting downwards or into rings by cutting across the bulb.
When used raw in salads, it needs to be cut into smaller pieces.
Cooking and Serving : Fennel can be
served raw if it is thinly sliced and dressed with a light vinaigrette.
In salads, its flavor contrasts well with apple, celery and other
crunchy ingredients. Fennel is also excellent braised with onions,
tomatoes and garlic.