Fennel is a marvelous vegetable that isn't used very much but should be. It's a celery-like plant with a large white bulb and feathery leaves which resemble dill. The base and stems can be eaten raw or cooked. The fragrant greenery can be used as a garnish or snipped and used as a last-minute flavor enhancer. Fennel is often mislabeled "sweet anise," causing those who don't like the flavor of licorice to avoid it. However, the flavor is sweeter and more delicate than anise, and when cooked, becomes enven lighter. Common fennel is the variety from which fennel seeds come. Although common fennel is bulbless, its stems and greenery are used in the same ways as Florence fennel.
How to select: Look for crisp, smooth white bulbs and unwilted leaves that are a fresh green. Good quality fennel will have bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. The stalks should be relatively straight and closely superimposed around the bulb and should not splay out to the sides too much. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green in color. There should be no signs of flowering buds as this indicates that the vegetable is past maturity. Fresh fennel should have a fragrant aroma, smelling subtly of licorice or anise. Fennel is usually available from autumn through early spring.
How to store: Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator crisper, where it should keep fresh for about four days. Yet, it is best to consume fennel soon after purchase since as it ages, it tends to gradually lose its flavor. While fresh fennel can be frozen after first being blanched, it seems to lose much of its flavor during this process. Dried fennel seeds should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry location where they will keep for about six months. Storing fennel seeds in the refrigerator will help to keep them fresher longer.
How to prepare: braise, raw, saute.
Matches well with: butter, cabbage, celery root, coriander, cream, cucumbers, fish, fruit, garlic, lemon, olive oil, olives, onions, oranges, Parmesan cheese, Pernod, potatoes, sausages, seafood, sherry, thyme, tomatoes, vinaigrette Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C. It is also a very good of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, folate, and molybdenum. In addition, fennel is a good source of niacin as well as the minerals phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper.