Fennel. It was once a favourite flavour for sweets. Now it is the all singing, all dancing wonder bulb! From its frilly tips to its bulbous bum, fennel has something to offer everyone.
If you’re not a fan of the flavour or smell, maybe you’ve experienced it somewhere else and not realized why it gives you bad flashbacks… Fennel, along with anise is used to flavour absinthe!
Fennel is a layered, perennial bulb which originated in the Mediterranean. Every part of the fennel plant is edible, but there are two varieties. The vegetable we eat and harvest fennel seeds from is called Florence fennel. The other is Vulgare. The yellow flowers of this variety are crushed up into the spice fennel pollen. Both are a member of the carrot family, though it’s not a root vegetable; the layered bulb grows above ground.
Measure twice, cut once; how fennel is prepped affects flavour. Thin slices of the bulb raw, lightly sauteed or marinated will give you a full, crisp flavour. Roast fennel in quarters to get a woodier, heartier tone. Stewed or braised with other ingredients will impart that lovely aniseed flavour throughout the dish.
It is known to be an antioxidant, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and to stimulate gastrointestinal motility. Fennel is a good source of vitamins A, B, and C. It also contains fibre, potassium, calcium and copper. It smooths the muscles of the gastrointestinal system to reduce bloating and stomach cramps.
It was used in ancient Chinese medicine to treat snake bites and was hung above the door to ward off evil in the Middle Ages. The Greek name for fennel is marathon (meaning a plain with fennel). Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of victory of the battle of Marathon, carrying a fennel stalk on his 150-mile journey.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus used a stalk of fennel to carry fire from Mount Olympus to share with the people. This may be the origin of the Olympic flame tradition too! Take that Zeus! Or Jupiter. Classics study was a long time ago… Anyway. Prometheus. Good guy, fire bringer. First recorded fennel recipe? Maybe. It’s on par with some of the recipes I find on the internet. Take one fennel bulb, apply fire from the gods (store bought is fine if there isn’t a Mount Olympus nearby) and Basta! Fennel and fire for the masses.
To store: Cut off the stalks where they emerge from the bulb, and if you want to use the feathery foliage as an herb, place the dry stalks upright in a glass filled with 4cm of water. Cover the glass loosely with a bag and store in the refrigerator for few days. The unwashed bulb may be kept in a bag in the refrigerator drawer for 2 weeks.
To prep: Remove the tip base of the white bulb. Cut off the stalks. Chop or mince the stems and leaves for garnish or seasoning.
To freeze: Cut bulb into quarters and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Then plunge into ice water for 1 minute. Drain and freeze in bags.