Although with roots in the celery family, fennel is distinctly know for its aromatic aniseed flavour.
Fennel, also know as Florence fennel, finocchio or sweet fennel, has a squat, bulbous stem and feathery tops that are referred to as fronds – very similar in appearance to dill. The fronds are flavourful and sweet and are perfect for sprinkling over salads, stirred through sauces, or made into a pungent pesto.
Popular in Mediterranean cuisine, fennel is either thinly sliced and served raw to add crisp texture and distinct flavour to dishes, or softened and mellowed through cooking, making for a delicious side dish.
Seasonal period: June to November
Flavour friends: The anise tendency of fennel matches brilliantly with salty ingredients such as parmesan, capers and oysters. Fennel also enjoys a squeeze of acidity from citrus fruits – particularly lemon and orange – as well as fresh herbs such as mint. All of these aromatic flavours are particular great paired with the sweetness of simple white fish.
Buying, storing and preparing: Buy small. tender bulbs that are bright white – the smaller the bulb, the sweeter the flavour. The tops should be perky, vivid green and not showing any signs of wilting. The fennel should be particularly weighty for its size and firm to touch. Avoid any bulbs with discolouration. Chop of the fronds and store the bulb in the fridge for a couple of days in a paper bag. Place the fronds in water and look after like herbs.
Cooking: Fennel can be very thinly sliced and eaten raw. Otherwise boiled, steamed, roasted or griddled. Cooking fennel on the hob will mellow its anise flavour and soften the bulbs beautifully. Roasting is a great way to retain the texture but also intensify the flavour, particularly the bulb’s sweetness.
Boil or steam: 20 minutes for whole bulbs, 10-12 minutes for wedges
Roast: Cut into wedges, brush with oil and cook for 40 – 45 minutes
Griddled: Cut into half, oil and place in a hot griddle pan. Cook face down for 10 minutes on medium heat
Words by Helen Upshall