Is it an herb or is it a vegetable? In fact, fennel can be both—it depends how you use it.
The bulb, stalks and leaves are all edible and have a slightly sweet anise flavor.
The leaves and seeds from sweet fennel are used as herbs to flavor foods, while the bulbs of Florence or finocchio fennel (the kind you find in your grocer's produce department) can be served raw or cooked as a vegetable similar to celery.
Although the bulb's flavor hints of celery, fennel is more akin to anise in taste. You can often substitute fennel seed for aniseed in recipes.
Fennel has long been a mainstay of Italian cuisine. The seeds enhance Italian sausage, and the bulbs are often marinated to include on antipasto platters. Here are other ways to use fennel in all its forms:
- Leaves. Use as you would fresh dill in salads and sauces and to garnish soups. Steam whole fish on a bed of fennel leaves, or chop to flavor butter.
- Seeds. Add to soups, breads, desserts, pasta and tomato dishes, pickles, sauerkraut and salads. Sprinkle a little on pepperoni pizza or spice up your meatball mixture.
- Bulbs. Slice into thin rings like an onion and add to salads. Mince for soups. Broil parboiled wedges topped with butter and grated Parmesan cheese as a side dish. Boil and puree slices and add to mashed potatoes.
Aromatic Fennel Chicken
Fennel adds to the flavor of this wonderful chicken dish, along with lemon, capers, wine, spices and a bit of bacon. Serve with a colorful salad or veggie for a special meal.
—Rebecca Hunt, Santa Paula, California
Fennel Waldorf Salad
The old standby Waldorf salad is simply too good to let slip away! Here's a new slant featuring fresh fennel. Try Braeburn apples for a fresh, crisp flavor.
—Donna Noel, Gray, Maine
Roasted Fennel and Peppers
Fennel makes for a tasty change of pace in this versatile side that goes great with grilled meats. Best of all, it's full of flavor, easy to do and doesn't seem light at all!
—Healthy Cooking Test Kitchen
Fennel-Potato Au Gratin
The tender potato slices in this cozy casserole have a mild fennel flavor with a hint of nutmeg. Add a creamy sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan, and you have a homey side dish your family will ask for again and again.
—Karen Haen, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Asparagus-Fennel Pasta Salad
Asparagus delivers delightful spring flavor in this hearty side salad. Served warm, it includes a wonderful mix of fresh-tasting ingredients.
—Linda Lacek, Winter Park, Florida