Finocchio or Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subsp. vulgare var. azoricum Mill. Thell, Apiaceae), called "anise," is a special type produced for its enlarged bulb (thickened leaf bases). This vegetable is very popular in Europe , where the bulbs are either consumed raw or prepared by baking, blanching, or boiling. The bulbs are often sold as "anise" because of the strong "licorice" or "anise" aroma. This is not the same as the seed spice also known as herb fennel which has the same strong licorice aroma.
This vegetable has slowly inched its way into mainstream cooking because our interest in Italian cooking has increased. Florence fennel originally comes from Florence , Italy . This vegetable is a perennial bulb which belongs to the root family of carrots. Florence fennel is a pale green vegetable shaped like a swelling bulb. Each fennel bulb or head is composed of tightly packaged, interwoven leaves. The tough stems at the top are usually cut away before the bulbs are sold. When you buy fennel bulbs, look for firm bulbs without discoloration at the base. Choose a bulb with very little or no discoloration on the outer leaves. If the top is yellow or floppy, it is not a fresh fennel bulb.
When you prepare this vegetable, cut the last stumps of the stems at the top and trim the base. If the outer layer is a little discolored, remove it. You can find fennel in large bulbs or in miniature size. The miniature fennel are usually lightly steamed or simmered and dressed with a little olive oil or butter. If you want to use the fennel bulb as a salad, cut off the stumps (stems) at the top and trim the bottom of the bulb. Quarter each bulb from stem to base and slice across each quarter very thinly. Dress with lemon or lime juice, virgin olive oil, a little garlic (optional) and salt and pepper. Fennel and tomatoes go well together, so you could add some cherry tomatoes to the fennel salad.
Alternatively, add some of the sliced fennel to a green salad.
When you cook the fennel it softens the flavor and enhances the sweet flavor. If you do not like the strong, raw flavor, try the fennel as a cooked vegetable. You can cut the fennel into quarters or eighths and, as with the miniature fennel bulb, you can cook it or steam it.
Press it gently to remove any excess water, then dress it with a little olive oil or melted butter, salt and pepper. Alternatively, after pressing it gently to remove any excess water you can then brush it lightly with a little olive oil and place it on the grill for summer meals.
Fennel goes with any meal, but it is particularly good with the mild taste of fish and chicken. We have included a couple of fennel recipes for your enjoyment this week.
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