Italians love fennel, and it's easy to see why. Enjoy the vegetable's crisp texture and subtle licorice flavor raw in salads and sandwiches, or cook it—just about any way you like—to savor its sweet side.
Take a look at all the recipes featuring fennel (finnochio in Italian), and you'll see that fennel is a very versatile vegetable indeed. Looking a little like celery on steroids, it has a pale bulbous base from which emerge finger-like stalks topped with frilly green leaves. Raw, its crisp texture adds a fragrant bite to salads, sandwiches, and salsas. But fennel is as much a wonder when cooked, especially when browned to bring out its sweetness.
Buying fennel: Though you can find fennel throughout much of the year, most locally grown fennel is at its peek in the fall; look for it locally at farmers markets for a real treat. Choose firm, pale bulbs with a good appearance, bright green tops, and a lovely scent. Avoid fennel that looks dry or browned, although a little browning on the outer layer of the bulb, which is often trimmed away, is okay. Fennel will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. For best storage, cut off the stalks and leaves.
Preparing fennel: All of fennel is edible, though it's the meaty bulb that gets used most. (The fibrous stalks make a great addition to the soup or stew pot, while the leaves, which look like dill, may be used as an herb, a great way to add a boost of fennel flavor.) The first step when handling fennl is to cut away the stalks close to the bulb. Trim the root, if necessary and pull off the outer layer if it looks dry or discolored. The bulb may then be cut into wedges for braising or roasting. sliced into strips for pasta or to cook with fish or chicken, or very thinly sliced, preferably with a madoline, to use in a salad. It can also be diced like an onion for salsas. Once cooked, fennel is also delicious pureed for sauces or soups.
Four quick ideas for fennel. SLIDESHOW
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