If the first day of fall happens to be cold and stormy, then thoughts immediately turn to comforting soups and stews. For mild autumn days, we can savor summer a little longer with the perfect transitional fall vegetable – the fennel bulb. The season for fennel starts in late September and continues right through to spring. The crisp pale green and white color of fennel bulb is reminiscent of summer, but its aniseed flavor adds warmth for the cooler days ahead.
The supermarkets stock Florence fennel, with its characteristically large bulb that is crowned by few feathery fronds and finger-like stalks. The dried seeds from its yellow flowers are used in herbal remedies for digestion and in cooking, but the aromatic bulb is used as a vegetable. The prominent licorice (or liquorice-like) flavor could overwhelm a dish, and so when added raw in a salad, pair with equally bold tastes of chicory greens such as radicchio or frisée. Roasting or blanching the fennel bulb mellows its anise-like flavor. Fennel bulb can be eaten raw in a salad, blanched, or added to stews.
Choosing A Fennel Bulb
- The bulb should feel heavy. It should not have marks or bruises.
- The feathery fronds, which look like dill or carrot leaves, should be fresh and bright green.
- The cut-off stalk ends (looks like celery stalks and with an equally high water content) should not be visibly dry or brown.
- The cut base of the bulb should still appear moist.
How To Clean And Store Fennel Bulb
- Remove the feathery leaves. They can be used as a herb.
- Remove the stalks at the point where they meet the bulb. The stalks can be added to stock.
- Cut the bulb in half (if using it raw in a salad), and remove the small hardened core at the base.
- Slice the cut halves across or into small chunks.
- Store the bulb uncovered in the fridge.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Place the cleaned fennel bulb on an aluminum foil.
- Cook until tender, about 40 minutes. The bulb should have a slight crunch.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Suggestions For Using Fennel
- For a warm salad: Mix the roasted fennel with cooked beets and crisp frisée or endive for a colorful and flavorful salad. Drizzle a light vinaigrette of olive oil, champagne wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Toss and serve.
- Slow cook slices of fennel with olive oil and use the caramelized fennel with broiled salmon.
- Blanching fennel slices also reduces the sharpness of aniseed flavor. Serve with other vegetables or with asparagus and poached eggs.
- Add chunks of fennel to stews along with carrots and potatoes.