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Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Every year around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays I think about fennel.  As a kid growing up there was always fennel at the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.  So, fennel brings me back to grandma's dining room table and my childhood.

Florence fennel, sweet fennel or just fennel is a highly aromatic flavorful herb with both culinary and medicinal uses.  In America fennel is often mislabelled  as anise.  Fennel is part of  many culinary traditions.  The Italians call it "finocchio".

Fennel is eaten as a vegetable both raw and cooked.  The crisp bulb can be saute'ed, stewed, braised, grilled or eaten raw. The taste has been described as a cross between celery, cabbage, and licorice.  Fennel is prominent in Mediterranean  cuisine.  It is used raw or cooked in side dishes, salads, pastas, vegetable dishes and risotto.  Fennel seed is common in Italian sausages, meatballs, and northern Italian rye breads.

Fennel's ripe seeds and oil are used to make medicine.  Fennel contains anethole which is widely used as a carminative to fight flatulance.  Fennel is used for various other digestive problems including heartburn, bloating, loss of appetite and colic in infants.  In India fenned seeds are eaten  raw sometimes with a sweetener to improve eyesight.  Extracts from seeds have shown in animal studies to have potential use in treatment of glaucoma.  Historic anecdotes say fennel helps improve milk supply in breastfeeding mothers because it contains phytoestrogens which promote growth of breast tissue.

Fennel will thrive just about anywhere.   You can plant seeds in early April in ordinary soil.  Fennel will grow to be about 8 ounces to 2 pounds in weight.  Stalks and fronds should be a bright light green.  The bulb which has virtually all the usable meat should be creamy white with no cracks or withering.  Any brown or yellowing means the fennel is old.  Fennel that is not consumed within a few days will lose up to 50% of its flavor.  Store fennel in plastic bags in the crisper for no more than a few days.

Fennel season starts in September and continues to May.  Peak periods with lowest prices occur in November and December.   For an easy and delicious treat slice the bulb and put it in a tin foil pocket with butter, salt and pepper.  Then roast in the oven or on the grill for about 15 to 20 minutes  and....

Eat up! Enjoy!  I'll show you how.