Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fennel 101

Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables because of its unique flavor and versatility.  This bulb shaped veggie has a sharp licorice-like flavor when it's raw, making it a surprising addition to salads or crudites.  When cooked, the flavor mellows.  The large bulb can be quartered, sliced or diced, much in the same way as an onion.  It's receptive to almost any cook method you can think of.

Look for fennel in the produce section of your supermarket. It's sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as anise, as they are similar in flavor.  This bulbous veggie, has short stalks and feathery green leaves near the top.  (It looks a bit like a short, fat bunch of celery.)  You will sometime see it cut down, without the leaves, in which case it's likely that it's been trimmed down and not as fresh, so check carefully.  Look for bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting.  If you don't intend to use it right away, store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.

Fennel is composed of three parts, the bulb, stalks and leaves, all of which are edible.   Fennel can be cut in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending on the recipe and your preference.   Thick slices or quarters can be tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil; then grilled or roasted.  Thinly slice, dice or julienne for salads or sauteing.  Fennel is particularly delicious when caramelized along with some sweet onions.  The tops of the stalks tend to be tough so should not be eaten raw.  The tough stalks as well as the leaves can be used for soups, stocks or stews. 


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