Fresh Fennel: A Refreshingly Different Vegetable

What vegetable looks a bit like a combination of celery and dill, but has a delicate and refreshing licorice taste? Fresh Fennel, of course! If you’ve never tried this subtly sweet, fragrant and delicious veggie, Frieda’s Specialty Produce encourages you to pick up a fresh bulb during your next trip to the produce department. You won’t be disappointed!

While a licorice-flavored vegetable may sound odd, you might be surprised by how mild and palatable fennel bulbs are, especially after cooking. The bulb, the stems and the feathery leaves of Fennel (sometimes incorrectly labeled “Anise”) are all edible. A favorite in Italian cuisine, fennel can be enjoyed raw, blanched, braised, baked, roasted, grilled or fried. Use it as a vegetable side dish or pair with other flavors such as parmesan, goat cheese and olive, citrus, apple, or even fig and cream cheese. Fennel is also an excellent complement to chicken, fish and pork, as its aromatic flavors perfume the meat and add a subtle complexity to dishes.

Fennel is best enjoyed within 3 to 4 days after purchasing. Store it wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer until ready to use. Chop the bulb section and cut out the small woody inner core. Then simply braise, roast or grill with salt and pepper, or shave finely to use raw, such as a blood orange and fennel salad. The green stalks of the fennel plant are a bit more fibrous and may need to be cooked longer to reach desired tenderness. Use the feathery leaves as a fresh herb, adding freshly chopped sprigs to soups and dishes just before serving.

Here are two simple and delicious way to enjoy Fennel from Frieda’s:

Braised Fennel with Pancetta

1 bulb Frieda’s Fennel

1 cup chicken broth or water

2 strips pancetta or bacon, diced

1/4 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 3-oz pkg. Frieda’s Pine Nuts, chopped and toasted (optional garnish)

Trim fennel, discarding stems (or saving for another use) and reserving some leaves for garnish. Cut fennel bulb into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then slice crosswise. In a medium saucepan, bring broth or water to boil. Add fennel pieces; reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, sauté pancetta or bacon slowly; add onion and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes, or until onion is tender; drain well. Drain cooked fennel; stir in pancetta mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon mixture onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with pine nuts, if desired, and garnish with some of the reserved green leaves. Makes 4 servings.


Sautéed Cheese, Fennel and Grape Salad

Thick, melted slices of mozzarella complement crisp raw sticks of fennel and juicy red grapes.

1 Frieda’s Fennel bulb

4 cups mixed spring lettuce, torn

1 cup red seedless grapes, cut into halves

8 ounces mozzarella cheese (not fresh mozzarella)

½ cup Italian-seasoned dry bread crumbs

1 extra-large egg

1 tablespoon water

½ cup orange juice

1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil

2 teaspoons Frieda’s minced Fresh Chives

Salt & pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

Trim the leafy end of the fennel bulb to within 1 inch of the head, reserving a few of the leaves. Trim a thin slice from the bottom end of the bulb. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters, then into julienne sticks. Chop 1 tablespoon of the leaves and reserve. Combine the fennel bulb, lettuce and grapes in a large bowl and toss gently.

Cut the mozzarella cheese into eight 1½ x 1½ x ¼-inch pieces. Place the bread crumbs on a plate. Beat the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork. Dip each cheese slice first in egg mixture to coat, then coat with breadcrumbs on all sides. Place on a wax-paper-lined tray. Combine the orange juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, chives, salt and pepper in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously.

Toss the salad with the dressing. Spoon onto 4 salad plates. Heat the remaining olive oil in a medium skillet and sauté cheese for 1 to 2 minutes per side, just until medium-brown and melted. Place 2 cheese slices to each salad plate. Sprinkle the reserved fennel leaves over salads. Makes 4 servings. (Source: The Purple Kiwi Cookbook, By Karen Caplan)