An ancient plant used for it’s herb, vegetable and seed.
The herb fennel is part of the carrot family. Herb fennel originated in the Mediterranean, but is easy to grow in most soils and makes a good tall plant for the back of a border. The stalks can be dried and used for aromatic fuel on a barbecue, the fronds for salads, stuffings and stocks and the seeds for marinades, rubs, sprinkling onto bread or baking into biscuits.
Fennel has a mild aniseed flavour, medicinally, it is an excellent stomach and intestinal remedy, relieving flatulence, colic and stimulating digestion.
Fennel tea will increase the flow of milk in nursing mothers.
Essential oil of fennel used in a massage helps ease muscular and rheumatic joints.
Florence fennel is the vegetable form, it is an annual with a white, bulbous, edible stem. This has a crunchy texture with a juicy aniseed flavour and can be used thinly sliced in salad, roasted, barbecued, steamed or braised.
The vegetable is high in fiber, low in calories and packed with nutrients, particularly vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. It is very calming on the digestive system, reducing indigestion, flatulence and constipation, helps regulate blood pressure, menstruation, and respiratory problems.
What To Do With Fennel
Fennel grows a bit like celery, if you get it pulled straight from the ground, the roots can be carefully cleaned and braised.
Pull the outer leaves off as they can be a bit tough. The inner bulb is the best bit, tender and juicy for salads, steamed, roasted or braised as a vegetable or sliced up in casserole.
The green stalks can be used to flavour stocks and soups.
The feathery fronds can be used as a herb is salads and soups.
However if you have supermarket trimmed fennel, it’s been trimmed for you and you can use the whole thing.
Below are a few of my favourite fennel recipes. Make the most of it when it is in season!
Slow cooking fennel makes it a delicious accompaniment to meat, poultry or fish. This is a traditional French way of cooking fennel.
2 bulbs of fennel, about 400g
4 cloves of garlic with the skin on
150ml white wine
2 tbsp oil
Salt & pepper
- Cut the fennel bulbs into quarters or halves if small.
- Heat a heavy based pan on a medium heat, add the oil and fry the fennel cut side down for about 5 min, each side to colour a little.
- Add the garlic and white wine, it will bubble in the hot pan.
- Turn the heat down, put a lid on the pan and simmer gently for 40mins or until tender.
- Once cooked, remove the fennel from the pan & keep warm, remove the garlic cloves from their skins & mash into the pan juices. Boil to a syrupy consistency, then pour over the fennel. Finish with a scattering of fennel fronds.
Citrus Fennel Salad
A refreshing crisp salad ideal with roast lamb or duck, also good with oily fish like salmon, mackerel or herring.
1 red grapefruit
2 kiwi fruit
1 bulb fennel approx. 200 – 300g
1 heaped tbsp shredded mint
- With a knife, peel the grapefruit & oranges, then cut out the segments so that you have no pith or skin left on the fruit. Squeeze the juice from the core that is left and reserve.
- Rub the kiwi fruit in a towel to remove some of the fuzz from the skin. Top & tail, then cut in half length wise and slice into approx. 5mm slices.
- Finely slice the fennel, then toss with the kiwi, mint and citrus juices.
- Spread over a platter or individual plates, arrange the citrus segments, drizzle with a little olive oil and a grind of black pepper.
Warm Salad of Poached Eggs with Fennel, Orange & Feta Cheese
Warm salads are lovely at this time of year. Fennel is just coming into season and goes well with orange and eggs. This dish is light, healthy, but still substantial enough to leave you satisfied.
1 bulb fennel
60g feta cheese
½ tsp fennel seed
20g pine nuts
Zest of ½ orange
Juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp olive oil
100g white wine
2 handfuls of salad leaves
- Crush the fennel seed a little, then put into a dry frying pan with the pine nuts and toast gently until the pine nuts are golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Cut the fennel into 8 to 12 wedges depending on its size. Reserve any fronds.
- Heat the butter and oil in the frying pan and fry the wedges on a medium high heat for a few minutes each side to colour and soften the fennel.
- Scatter the orange zest into the pan, add the white wine and bubble to reduce. Add the orange juice and continue to cook until there are about 3 teaspoons of liquid left. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Poach the eggs.
- Arrange the salad leaves on two plates or bowls, divide the fennel between them, arranging it on top of the leaves. Crumble over the feta cheese, then sprinkle over the pine nuts and fennel seeds.
- Drain the eggs well, place on top of the salad, drizzle over the pan juices and finish with the reserved fennel fronds.
Roast Fennel with Red Peppers & Chickpeas
This dish can be a vegetarian main course or a salad. It has Middle Eastern flavours and can be spiced up or down to suit.
2 bulbs of fennel, about 400g
2 cloves garlic, skin on
12 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp oil
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
2 roasted red peppers from a jar, drained & rinsed
25g fresh coriander
1 ½ tsp harissa paste
¼ preserved lemon rind, rinsed & chopped finely
3 tbsp good olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
- Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6
- Cut the fennel into quarters, reserving any feathery tops. Put into a roasting tin, drizzle with oil, salt & pepper and roast for 20mins.
- When the time is up, pierce the skin of the tomatoes and add them to one side of the roasting tin. Roast for another 20mins, then remove from the tin.
- Cut the red peppers into strips, about 1cm thick, add them to the roasting tin once you have removed the tomatoes. Roast for 10mins, then add the chickpeas, stirring everything together & put back into the oven for a final 10mins.
- Make the dressing – mash the roast tomatoes and mix with the harissa paste, preserved lemon rind, olive oil and lemon juice.
- Roughly chop the coriander.
- Once the roasting time is up, remove the roasting tin from the oven, drizzle the dressing over the fennel & chickpea mixture and mix well. Stir through the coriander and garnish with any reserved fennel tops.