Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, adding a refreshing contribution to the ever popular Mediterranean cuisine. Most often associated with Italian cooking, be sure to add this to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best.
What to look for:
Good quality fennel will have bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. The stalks should be relatively straight and closely superimposed around the bulb and should not splay out to the sides too much. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green in color. There should be no signs of flowering buds as this indicates that the vegetable is past maturity. Fresh fennel should have a fragrant aroma, smelling subtly of licorice or anise. Fennel is usually available from autumn through early spring.
How to use it:
Ever since ancient times, fennel has enjoyed a rich history. The ancient Greeks knew fennel by the name “marathon”; it grew in the field in which one of the great ancient battles was fought and which was subsequently named the Battle of Marathon after this revered plant. Fennel was also awarded to Pheidippides, the runner who delivered the news of the Persian invasion to Sparta. Greek myths also hold that knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal. Fennel was revered by the Greeks and the Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties.
In Ancient Greek, fennel was called marathon and is attested in Linear B tablets as ma-ra-tu-wo. John Chadwick notes that this word is the origin of the place name Marathon site of the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC; however, Chadwick wryly notes that he has “not seen any fennel growing there now”.In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the gods. Also, it was from the giant fennel, Ferula communis, that the Bacchanalian wands of the god Dionysus and his followers were said to have come.
Like many of its fellow spices, fennel contains its own unique combination of phytonutrients-including the flavorings and various kaempferol glycosides-that give it strong antioxidant activity. The phytonutrients in fennel extracts compare favorably in research studies to BHT, a potentially toxic antioxidant commonly added to processed foods.
Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C. It is also a very good of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, folate, and molybdenum. In addition, fennel is a good source of niacin as well as the minerals phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper.
Fennels a herb, fennel leaves are used in French and Italian cuisine’s in sauces for fish and in mayonnaise. In Italy fennel is also used to season pork roasts and spicy sausages, especially the Florentine salami finocchiona. It is traditionally considered one of the best herbs for fish dishes. The English use fennel seeds in almost all fish dishes, especially as a court bouillon for poaching fish and seafood. It is used to flavour breads, cakes and confectionery. It is an ingredient of Chinese Five Spices and of some curry powders. Several liquors are flavored with fennel, including fennouillette, akvavit, gin and was used in distilling absinthe.