Califonia Bountiful

A 'frondness' for fennel

November/December 2017 California Bountiful magazine

In both appearance and flavor, fennel could fall victim to mistaken identity: Its tall, green stalks could pass for celery. Its wispy fronds resemble dill. Because of its slightly sweet licorice flavor, the aromatic vegetable is also called sweet anise, even though it is different from the herb anise, which is harvested for its seeds.

But make no mistake about fennel's versatility. All parts of the plant are edible—either raw or cooked. Toss thinly sliced raw fennel bulb into salads and slaw to add crunch, or put it on a sandwich or pizza for a different twist. Cooking will make it tender, bringing out its sweetness while mellowing the flavor. Braise it whole or incorporate the bulbs and stems into soups, stews and casseroles.

Use the fronds as garnish or add them to any recipe calling for fresh herbs.

Though fennel is available year-round, peak season in California is from autumn to early spring.

At the market: Choose bulbs that are fragrant and smooth with no cuts, blemishes or browning. If the fronds are attached, they should be a vibrant, bright green. Although it seems counterintuitive, keep in mind that larger bulbs are often more tender than elongated, slender bulbs.

In your kitchen: Refrigerate fennel—unwashed and wrapped in a plastic bag—for up to five days. Remove the fronds before storing if they don't look perfectly fresh. When ready to use, rinse with cold water. Cut off the stalks and fronds, saving the fronds for another use, if you'd like. Cut off the root end of the bulb. Depending on how tough the outer layer is, remove the whole layer or simply peel the surface with a vegetable peeler. Cut out any tough core portion, then slice or chop the bulb as your recipe directs.

Fennel facts

  • Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and is an especially popular ingredient in Italian cuisine. 
  • It takes about three months for fennel to go from seed to harvestable bulb. 
  • The fennel flower produces an edible pollen that can be used to dust fish, pork or poultry—even grains or roasted vegetables. 
  • Roasted fennel seeds, which are often offered in Indian restaurants to spoon onto your palm at the end of a meal, are thought to sweeten the breath and aid digestion. 
  • Anethole, the compound in fennel responsible for its licorice flavor, has been shown in animal studies to reduce inflammation. Fennel is also an excellent source of vitamin C and rich in fiber, folate and potassium.
  • Roman warriors were said to have consumed fennel to make them strong and ready for battle.

Ching Lee and Barbara Arciero


Caramelized fennel tartlets with prosciutto and goat cheese

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