Preparing Dishes with Fresh Fennel

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD

You can call it Florence fennel, you can call it sweet
anise, and you can even call it finocchio. How will you know it when you see
it? Fennel’s bulb looks like a white, Disney-esque celery stalk, tapering off
to skinny (like the diameter of your index finger) stalks and ending with
feathery leaves, reminiscent, in shape, of fresh dill. Fennel has a mild,
licorice (as in the real stuff, black licorice) aroma and flavor. Used
correctly, it is absolutely intoxicating.

Fennel can be eaten raw. Just de-string the bulb and the
stalks with a vegetable peeler and crunch on it as you would celery. No time to
create? Buy a bagged salad, slice some fresh fennel, toss in some walnuts and
you have an upscale salad. If you are feeling elegant, and have steady hands,
you can shave fresh fennel with a razor or cheese plane to extract maximum
flavor.

The ancient Greeks thought of fennel as a symbol of victory
and success. The ancient Romans thought fennel had the ability to sharpen
eyesight. Herbalists will make a tea by boiling fennel and allowing it to
steep, using it to soothe the stomach, help to digest fatty foods and to
cleanse the system. Fennel is a good source of fiber, along with other
nutrients such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C.

Fresh fennel can be thinly sliced, diced, or chopped and
added to simmering beans or lentils, salsas, tomato sauce, mushroom dishes, or
grains. Use fennel to add an extra layer of exciting flavor to sandwiches or
wraps, to grilled veggie burgers or extra-firm tofu or seitan or eggplant
slices, and to soups and to scrambled tofu. If you have extra fennel, you can
cut the bulb into chunks, wrap in foil and grill or roast in the oven, to use
as a side dish or as an aromatic condiment.

Enjoy this recipe!

Fennel Salad

(Serves 4)

Take a break from
lettuce and dive into this crunchy, aromatic salad.

1 medium fennel (about ½ pound), peeled, leaves removed and
cut into thin strips

2 red bell peppers (about ½ pound) deseeded and cut into
thin strips

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

Toss fennel and peppers in a medium bowl. In a small bowl,
whisk together vinegar, oil and pepper until frothy. Pour evenly over fennel
and mix to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving.