Fennel – An Italian Favourite

fennel bulbIn 1824, Thomas Appleton, the American consul in Florence sent seeds of fennel back to America describing it as “… beyond every other vegetable, delicious…”

Finocchio, Florence or bulb fennel is a favourite of Italian cooks and if looking for ways to use this vegetable look towards this cuisine. With its mild anise flavour this versatile vegetable can be finely sliced for salads, but is also great braised, sautéed and added to soups and casseroles. It has a particularly affinity to fish, pork, feta and olives.

The winter crop of fennel is now in season and you should be able to find at Farmers’ Markets and in fruit and vegetable shops until about August. A summer crop with smaller bulbs is also available in some areas during the warmer months.

Every part of the fennel plant is edible from the seed to the root and depending on which part of the plant is being used it is classified as a herb (leaves), vegetable (bulb) or spice (seeds). The one
characteristic each part of the plant has is that it has a pleasant
aniseed flavour and aroma, however once the bulb is cooked much of this is lost.

It is also said that if you plant fennel near your dog’s kennel it will protect it from fleas.


Selecting: Small to medium sized bulbs are the most tender. But no matter the size bulbs should be white or pale green with no brown patches or blemishes and feel heavy for their size. The feathery tops should be bright green in colour and look fresh without any
yellowing. I always like to choose bulbs with some tops still on so I can use these for garnishing and adding flavour.

Preparing: To prepare fennel, cut off the tops, remove any
discoloured and damaged outer layers. Reserve any feathery fronds to garnish your dish.

  • For a salad, cut the bulb in half, lengthwise, remove the core, then cut crossways into thin slices.
  • The easiest way to remove the core is after cutting the bulb in half, simply cut a V-shaped wedge around the core and discard.
  • There are times when you do not need to remove the core for
    example if you want slices or wedges to hold together during cook – be guided by the instructions in your recipe.

Storing: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use within a few days.

Fennel, Orange & Feta Salad: Thinly slice 2 large or 4 small fennel bulbs and 1 large red onion and place in a bowl. Peel and segment 1 orange and add to bowl. Make a dressing by whisking together
¼ cup lemon juice, 2 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle dressing over fennel mixture and toss to combine. Scatter salad with 200g crumbled feta cheese and 1-2 tbsp chopped fennel leaves from the top of the bulbs. Serve with crusty bread, a bowl of olives, a peppery rocket salad, some sliced deli meats and a glass of Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris for a causal Sunday lunch. Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course.

Roasted Fennel Slices or Wedges: Preheat oven to 240°C. Cut
fennel bulb in half lengthwise, but do not remove the core. Cut halves into quarters, then into wedges alternatively cut, lengthwise, into 1cm thick slices. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add
fennel wedges or slices bring back to the boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain. Pour a little olive oil into a roasting pan, add fennel wedges or slices drizzle with a little more oil and roast for 20-25 minutes or
until fennel caramelises and is very tender. Delicious served at room temperature as part of an antipasto platter or hot with grilled fish or pork chops.

Sautéed Fennel: This is a great accompaniment for pan-fried fish. Prepare 2 large fennel bulbs then cut lengthwise into 1cm thick
slices. Place sliced fennel with ¼ cup olive oil, ½ cup water and salt to taste in a frying pan over a medium heat, cover and cook, stirring
occasionally and adding a little additional water, if necessary, for
30 minutes or until fennel is very tender. Once the fennel is very tender, uncover, increase heat and cook, turning frequently until caramelised. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serves 4

Happy cooking and eating.

Information complied by Rachel Blackmore

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