Friday, January 06, 2006
Fennel bulb, fronds trimmed
Q: "Fennel. Is that what they make fennel cakes out of?"
A: "Those aren't fennel cakes. They're called funnel cakes!"
Q: "Fennel. Are those the decorative tips at the ends of curtain rods?"
A: "Those aren't fennels. They're called finials!"
Q: "Well then, what the dickens IS fennel?"
A: "Thought you'd never ASK!"
Fennel is a member of the parsley family. It is sometimes referred to as sweet fennel, Florence fennel or finocchio. Its flavor is mildly reminiscent of licorice or anise -- but smoother, I think. It is used widely in the cooking of Provence and Italy and is available in great abundance throughout the fall and winter. Most major supermarkets are now part of the "fennel scene."
Fennel bulbs should be firm, the stalks straight and firm and the feathery fronds green and fresh. Often, the stalks will already have been removed at the grocery. In that case, be sure that the cut ends are fresh looking, not dry and white. Brown spots or signs of splitting are definitely to be avoided!
The stalks may be used in soups and stews -- the frondlike leaves are useful as an herb. But, it is the bulb that is the main fennel event. It is great cut into wedges, doused with the ever-popular extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkled with herbs, salt and pepper, and roasted.
Braising works well too -- slices or wedges are placed in a saucepan with just enough boiling liquid to barely cover. Broths, tomato sauce or wine work great! If you prefer firmer veggies, sautee rather than braise.
Raw, in salads, or steamed, fennel maintains all its healthful attributes to the max! It is high in vitamin C, low in calories and contains several grams of fiber per cup of raw slices.
All in all -- use it any way you like. Just can't put it through a funnel to make cakes out of it! (Having said that -- I wonder what would happen if one were to grate or grind it and make fritters with it. I may just have to try that!)