Thursday, September 6, 2012


Fennel (or anise, as it is also known) is a little-known and under-appreciated vegetable, in my opinion.  It is also kind of expensive to buy in the store.  So last year I decided to buy some fennel seeds and see what happened.  It was a success, so I planted fennel again this year. 

Fennel starts out looking a little like a fern.  Even when it is just a few inches tall, the fronds (as the green parts on top are called) and very fragrant, with a kind of licorice-y taste. 

There are two parts to the fennel, the frond (top) and the bulb (bottom).  As the bulb starts to grow, you are supposed to keep it covered with dirt.  I also keep the fronds trimmed so that the plant spends more of its energy developing a large base.

You can see the white bulb developing on the bottom of this plant.  After taking this picture, I mounded up some dirt around the base of the plant to cover it up.

I frequently see recipes where fennel fronds are paired with fish.  I personally don't eat fish, but I do throw the fronds into soups or especially when I am making homemade vegetable stock.  I use the bulb in vegetable stock as well.  It is also good added to the "mire poix" in any soup or sauce - that is the mixture of carrots, celery and onion that you frequently saute at the beginning of a recipe.  I have mixed chopped fennel bulb into mushroom stroganoff and also use it in my favorite lentil soup. 
The picture above is of a big, fat store bought (the horror!) fennel bulb that I used last weekend when making homemade ketchup.  Mine probably won't get to quite that size, but they do appear to be healthy and growing. 

Also, if you let the tops grow and go to seed (and they grow like crazy... several feet tall if you don't cut them back), you can harvest fennel seed from them and use it to grow more fennel, or in cooking.  I've never tried this, mainly because I forget to let one go that long, but this year I'll see if I can!

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