Fennel, a tall-growing plant with feathery, bright green foliage and yellow flowers, is both an herb and a vegetable. It is chiefly valued for its slightly curved, fragrant grayish green seeds but is also an interesting vegetable when poached or boiled. It has a warm, sweet taste, similar to anise.
Fennel seeds are used to flavor sausages, soups, breads, pastries, sweet pickles, and fish. The delicate leaves are used mostly as a garnish, for flavoring salads, and, when finely chopped, for enhancing sauces.
Florence fennel, native to Italy, where it is called finocchio, grows to only a foot tall, with stalks that resemble celery and a bulbous white base. The stalks can be sliced and served with other raw vegetables and an herb dip. They may also be braised or baked, in any way suitable for celery.
In many cuisines, fennel is associated with fish. Its distinct flavor complements delicate seafoods.
Here are some recipes using fennel, both as an herb and a vegetable. Before preparing any of them, try serving the bulb trimmed, chilled, and cut in short pieces as you would serve celery as an appetizer or a side dish. The first recipe is a salad of French origin, and combines the licorice taste of raw fennel with the crunch of chopped walnuts. Fennel-Walnut Salad 1 1/2 pounds small fennel bulbs Ice water 1/4 cup whipping cream 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard Salt and freshly ground white pepper 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts 1/2 tablespoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried chervil or tarragon
Chill a medium-size salad bowl. Remove fennel tops. Snip and set aside 1 tablespoon for garnish. Cut away hard outer stalks. Trim base. Slice bulb crosswise into very thin slices. Chill in bowl of ice water for 5 minutes. Drain well and dry on paper towels.
Combine cream, lemon juice, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, combine fennel and walnuts in chilled bowl. Add dressing and toss gently. Garnish with herbs and fennel leaves. Serves 6. Delicious with grilled fish or roast chicken. Boiled Fresh Fennel
Rinse fennel in cold water. Cut ends and leaves from bulbs, then cut in slices or pieces. Place in saucepan with 1/2 inch boiling salted water. Cover and cook from 10 to 20 minutes until tender. Serve with melted butter and lemon juice. Fennel Meatballs in Sauce 2/3 cup fine soft bread crumbs 1/4 cup beef broth or water 1 1/2 pound lean ground beef 1/4 cup chopped parsley 1 egg, slightly beaten 1 large clove garlic, crushed 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed, crushed 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon oregano 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper Tomato Sauce 2 cups onions, minced 1 large green pepper, cut in 1/2-inch strips lengthwise 1/3 cup chopped parsley 1 14 to 16 ounce can tomatoes 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce 2 large cloves garlic, crushed 1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper 1/4 teaspoon oregano
In large bowl soak bread crumbs in broth or water. Add remaining meatball ingredients and mix thoroughly. Shape in 2-inch balls. In large heavy kettle over medium heat brown meatballs in their own fat. Do not crowd. Remove from kettle. Discard all but 3 tablespoons drippings.
To make sauce, add onions to kettle and saute, stirring occasionally, until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients. Add meatballs. Partly cover and simmer , stirring occasionally until sauce is thick, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve over cooked pasta. Serves 6. Roast Pork With Fennel Seeds 1 4-pound center cut pork loin roast 3 cloves garlic, slivered Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed 2 small white onions, peeled 1/2 cup chicken broth
Have butcher cut away chine bone to make roast easier to carve. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Make gashes at various points in fat of roast and between meat and rib bones. Stud with garlic slivers. Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper to taste. Rub fennel seeds on top of roast.
Place roast meaty side down in shallow baking pan. Chop chine bone in pieces and scatter around roast. Add onions.
Bake, basting frequently for 30 minutes. Turn bone side down. Continue baking and basting 30 minutes more. Pour off all fat from pan. Add chicken broth and cover roast lightly with foil. Bake 30 to 45 minutes longer. Serve hot or cold. Serves 6 to 10.
The following is a popular Provencal dish and is a good example of using fennel with fish. Poissons au Fenouil (Fish With Fennel) 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, sliced 1/2 pound fennel, cut in 4- inch lenghts 1/4 cup fish stock, or bottled clam or tomato juice 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped 2 pounds fresh fish fillets (flounder, sole, or haddock) 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
In skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute onion and fennel 5 to 6 minutes. Add fish stock or juice and tomatoes and simmer 8 minutes longer.
Pour mixture into earthenware baking dish and place fish on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and bread crumbs. Pour remaining oil over bread crumbs and bake in 350 degree F. oven until flesh is firm, about 35 minutes. Serves 4.