Fennel, what is it and what do I do with it?

Whole shares will be receiving fennel in your CSA share this week.  

If you’ve never cooked with fennel, you’re not alone. For years, I was unaware of the  the bulbous green and white vegetable labeled “bulb fennel” because I associated it with black licorice. Well intrigued I wasn’t sure what I would do with it, but leave it to the CSA to get us eating all types of wonderful things.

My mother a Swede used fennel along with anise in Swedish Rye bread, but that was the seeds, not bulb fennel.  Anise is a pungent pint-sized herb, while “bulb fennel” — or fennel — is a hearty vegetable with a thick, bulbous base and celery-like stems that grow upward to 5 feet tall. It has a sweeter, more delicate flavor than anise. If you have never tried fennel as a vegetable, you’ve almost certainly tasted it in its other form: a spice. The greenish-brown seeds from the variety called common fennel are used to season Italian sausages, meaty stews and rustic breads. When ground up, the spice is used in rubs for fish, pork and lamb dishes and in other spice mixes. Fennel spice also is a key ingredient in Indian curries and is one of the five essential spices in Chinese five-spice powder.

Fennel’s subtle flavor works just fine on its own, but does wonders when combined with other foods. Indeed, fennel’s strength may be its power to blend and enhance other flavors. Tuna tastes more tuna-like when cooked with fennel. A simple salad of oranges, red onion and lemon vinaigrette has more zing with the addition of crunchy, raw fennel. Grilled sea bass becomes emblematic of Mediterranean cuisine when stuffed with lemon slices and fennel fronds.

On top are fragrant emerald fronds that look much like dill. Below are stout stalks that resemble celery and shoot upward like fingers being counted. The edible white “bulb” is actually not a bulb at all, but tightly stacked leaves that unpack like the base of a celery stalk.

Though all parts of the Florence fennel are edible, the stalks tend to be fibrous, like celery, while the fronds can have an anise intensity that might turn off some people. The thick white leaves of the base offer the most versatile use. When cooked, the leaves become supple, the same way onions lose their firmness, and retain only a faint hint of anise.

And if all this isn’t enough, this versatile vegetable has been used throughout history to cure stomach ailments, freshen breath and help fight weight gain. It also is high in vitamin C.

Click here too see a video on how to prepare Fennel 

Fennel will last in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, but as always the soon the better.

Roasted Fennerecipe here.

Shaved Fennel Salad

If you’re using a knife to prep here, do your best to slice things very, very thinly – not quite see through thin, but close

1 medium-large zucchini, sliced into paper thin coins
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and shaved paper-thin
2/3 cup / .5oz/ 15g loosely chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup / 80ml fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
1/3 cup / 80ml extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
fine grain sea salt
4 or 5 generous handfuls arugula
Honey, if needed
1/2 cup / 2 oz/ 60g pine nuts, toasted (I used almonds)
1/3 cup / 2 oz / 60g / feta cheese, crumbled

Combine the zucchini, fennel and dill in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice, olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside and marinate for 20 minutes, or up to an hour.

When you are ready to serve the salad, put the arugula in a large bowl. Scoop all of the zucchini and fennel onto the arugula, and pour most of the lemon juice dressing on top of that. Toss gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust with more of the dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, or salt if needed. If the lemons were particularly tart, you may need to counter the pucker-factor by adding a tiny drizzle of honey into the salad at this point. Let your taste buds guide you. Serve topped with pine nuts and feta.

Serves 4 to 6.

Prep time: 10 min

This Recipe is thanks to http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/shaved-fennel-salad-recipe.html

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