Fennel is a delicate, slightly sweet flavored bulbous plant often featured in Mediterranean cuisine. It is a succulent, enlarged bulb that imparts a special anise or licorice-like flavor. This is not to be confused with the herb anise, which is grown for its licorice flavored seeds and sold as seasoning. Its flavor is most prominent when eaten raw, and diminishes a lot when cooked.
Fennel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fennel) is cultivated for its beautiful, short stems in many regions of the southern Europe, especially in France and Italy. It is also known as Florence Fennel or Finocchio and it is a member of the Apiaceae (parsley family).
With its wispy fronds and bulb-like base (http://www.marthastewart.com/967593/how-cut-fennel-bulb#967593), Fennel looks like a feather-crowned, fat cousin to celery, with a similar crunch, but its flavor is remarkably different. The stalks of fennel are tough and usually not eaten, and the top fronds are sometimes used for garnish.
If there is anything that can be a substitute for Fennel in a recipe, it is Celery (which is more aromatic and it cooks faster), or 1 tsp Fennel Seed per lb of fennel, or 1 tablespoon Pernod (liqueur) or Bok Choy stems.
Fennel is a tasty vegetable which can be tossed into salad greens to add a special flavor and crunchy texture. It is especially good as an embellishment to fresh, raw, baby spinach leaves, red onion rings and thinly sliced and peeled orange slices, all tossed with a good vinaigrette.
Sometimes, fennel can be a good way to cleanse one’s palette between courses. Just try a small fork-full that has been tossed with a fruity olive oil between bites from a charcuterie platter. This helps to bring out the nuances of various kinds of salami and other deli meats.
When spring finally begins to usher in the start of warmer days, it always seems as though the vegetables are just on the brink of being ripe but, in reality, they might need just a couple more weeks to be at their peak of flavor. This is when one can always get their hands on some Fennel. What might be done with them?
Because there might still be a little chill in the air, salad for dinner is not something one thinks about. This is when one begins to get creative with Fennel. It can be added to soups stews, and stir-fry’s, tossed in with a roast along with potatoes for roasting, or even simply sautéed for a vegetable side dish. Try it this way, and let it turn your thoughts to the longer and warmer days to enjoy just ahead.
Sautéed Fennel Bulb
1 Large Fennel Bulb, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1 Clove Garlic, crushed
1 tsp. Granulated Onion
Salt and Pepper to taste
Reserve fern-like Fennel Tops, finely chopped.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the Fennel, the Garlic, the Granulated Onion, and the Salt and Pepper. Sauté over medium heat, until translucent and beginning to brown. Garnish with finely chopped Fennel Bulb Tops Serve at once. Makes 2 servings.