Get to Know Fennel

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Don’t let an aversion to black jelly beans scare you away from fennel.  Fennel is a crunchy, slightly sweet, and licorice flavored member of the parsley family.  Most often associated with Italian cooking, but also adds a refreshing contribution to the ever-popular Mediterranean cuisine.

Work with it, and you will find that the aromatic plant lends itself well to a wider variety of foods than you might have first suspected. Another reason to give fennel a try are the health benefits: one cup contains almost 20 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin C.  Fennel is most abundant during the spring and can be found at your local Farmer’s Market.  Generally you will find Florence, or bulb, fennel (sometimes labeled “fresh anise”)-has a bulbous base, stalks like celery, and feathery leaves that resemble Queen Anne’s lace. Like celery, the entire plant is edible. The crisp and slightly sweet bulb is especially delicious served raw in salads. Whether braised, sautéed, roasted, or grilled, the bulb mellows and softens with cooking.

Look for small, heavy, white bulbs that are firm and free of cracks, browning, or moist areas. The stalks should be crisp, with feathery, bright-green fronds. Wrapped in plastic, fennel keeps for just a few days in the refrigerator; the flavor fades as it dries out.

The Whole Fennel is Edible

• Fennel seeds don’t come from bulb fennel but from common, or wild, fennel. The seeds are slightly nutty, with the expected licorice flavor, and are widely used in sausages, stews, soups, and curries.

• Fennel stalks can take the place of celery in soups and stews, and can be used as a “bed” for roasted chicken and meats.

• Use fronds as a garnish, or chop them and use as you would other herbs, like dill or parsley. Chopped fennel works especially well in Italian tomato sauces, but add it late in the cooking process so the flavor isn’t diluted.

Working with Fennel

• Trim the stalks about an inch above the bulb.

• If you want pieces to stay together for grilling, keep the root end intact. Otherwise, trim about a half inch off the root end before cooking.

• To slice fennel, stand the bulb on the root end and cut vertically

Fennel Cucumber Salsa

1 Fresh cucumber, diced

1 large fennel bulb, diced

1 avocado – peeled, pitted, and diced

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 cup pickled banana peppers, diced

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the cucumber, fennel, avocado, red onion, banana peppers, cilantro, honey, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Allow mixture to sit 20 minutes before serving.

Pork Chops with Fennel and Caper Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

4 boneless (2-inch-thick) pork chops (about 2 pounds total)

3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning meat

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning meat

2 fennel bulbs with fronds, thinly sliced (about 8 ounces or 2 cups)

2 large shallots, thinly sliced

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/3 cup

1/2 cup white wine

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juices

1/2 lemon, zested

2 tablespoons capers

In a large, heavy skillet heat the olive oil over high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Add the pork to the pan and brown on both sides, about 4 minutes each side. Remove the pork from the pan, cover loosely with foil, and set aside.

Add the fennel, shallots, and 1/3 cup parsley to the pan and cook over medium heat until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the wine. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and stir. Add the pork back into the pan, nestling the chops between the fennel and tomatoes so they are mostly submerged in the pan juices. Cook until the fennel is tender and the pork is done, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Place the pork on a serving dish. To finish the sauce, add the lemon zest, remaining 1/3 cup parsley, capers, and 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Spoon over the pork chops and serve immediately.

Fennel and Cabbage Slaw

1 fennel bulb, core removed, cut into quarters, and sliced very thinly, fronds reserved

1 cup thinly sliced purple cabbage

2 scallions, chopped

2 strips bacon, cooked crisp and chopped

Dressing

1/4 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the fennel, cabbage, scallions, and bacon together in a medium bowl. Whisk the mayonnaise, vinegar, fennel fronds, sugar, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a small bowl. Add the dressing to the slaw and toss to coat.

Fresh Green Beans Fennel and Feta Cheese

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

1 fennel bulb, cut into thin slices

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Fill a saucepan half full with water and bring to a boil. Add the green beans and fennel slices; cook until just beginning to become tender, about 4 minutes. Pour into a colander to drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Return the empty pan to the stove and set heat to medium. Pour in the olive oil and let it heat for a minute. Return the green beans and fennel to the pan. Season with basil, salt, and pepper; cook and stir until coated and warm. Transfer to a serving dish and toss with feta cheese.