Fennel, with each part of the plant a distinct flavor and texture, represents true root-to-flower cooking.
The foliage of fennel is soft and feathery, resembling dill, while the fennel seed carries the most potent flavor, tasting similar to anise. And the fennel bulb, with its sweet flavor, is my favorite part to use in dishes.
The fennel bulb is great raw. Because of its crisp, sweet flavor, it pairs nicely with the acidity of juicy citrus and makes for a fresh, light salad during the heat of summer.
Thinly slice the fennel bulb and toss with vinaigrette made of ½ cup fresh squeezed citrus juice (orange, grapefruit, lemon or a combination), 1 tablespoon vinegar (white wine, champagne, or rice), 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, diced shallot (if desired), and salt and pepper.
For those not afraid of a little heat this summer, fennel bulb is an excellent side dish when roasted in the oven. Slice in 1-inch thick pieces, toss with olive oil and a little salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees, or until it begins to caramelize. Finish the roasted fennel with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and squeeze of lemon.
Laura Christensen of Blue Door Farm loves to grill it. She slices the fennel bulb, tosses with olive oil and salt, loosely wraps it in foil, and places it on a hot grill until it begins to caramelize. Christensen said it comes out with a nice smokiness, a great compliment to its sweet flavor.
The fronds of fennel resemble those of dill and while the outer, coarse fronds can be discarded, the more tender leaves have a delicate flavor. For an easy dip that goes great with grilled or roasted fennel bulb, finely mince the dill-like leaves, mix with plain yogurt, add a healthy squirt of fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and minced garlic. This can also be a nice accompaniment to a piece of grilled salmon according to Christensen.
The seed of the fennel flower has the most potent flavor and tastes similar to anise, which I learned is not to be confused with licorice. The aromatic flavor of the fennel seed is less appealing to me than the leaves and bulb, but is often found in sausage, especially of the Italian variety. I’ve even seen the seeds toasted in a pan, crushed in a mortar and pestle and added to vinaigrette.
Raised by generations of cooks, farmers and green thumbs, Andrea Shores is an enthusiastic eater and curious cook. She loves sharing her passion for local food by telling farmers’ and food purveyors’ stories.