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Mary-Linh Tran

Junior Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

The best way to shop? With the seasons. So, every 2 weeks at Kitchen Stories, we'll be highlighting a different in-season ingredient along with 3 new recipes. To the market, we go!

Fennel is one of those ingredients we often overlook in the U.S., where I grew up, but just across the pond, on the shores of the Mediterranean, fennel is prized for its licorice-y and anise-like flavor. Take Sicily, for example: From pasta con le sarde to raw slices tossed with orange, or crushed seeds strewn atop biscuits, wild fennel can be found all over the island of Sicily, painting the landscape with frilly yellow petals and then turning up in everyone’s kitchens.

These crunchy bright bulbs are packed with bold flavors that may intimidate some home cooks, but their versatility and nutritional value shouldn’t be dismissed. So, in the spirit of getting to know fennel a bit better, here’s everything you need to know about this beloved Mediterranean veg.

1. When and how to buy fennel

Peak growing season for fennel begins in fall and runs through winter. Composed mostly of water, they are low in carbs and protein, but their reservoir of micronutrients—folate, potassium, and vitamin A to name a few—makes up for this. In fact, fennel’s nutritional value has long been heralded by cultures all around the world. From India, where sugar-coated fennel seeds are a common after meal snack to aid digestion, to China, where it’s been used to remedy snake bites.

When searching for fennel, choose small to medium-sized bulbs that are firm and heavy with bright and feathery fronds. Larger bulbs tend to be more bitter and less tender, which can be great if you plan to slow cook it, but not so great if you want to eat them raw. As always, avoid bulbs that are bruised, disocolored, or shriveled.

2. Storing and preparing fennel

To store fennel, separate the stalks from the bulb and wrap the two parts in different plastic bags. Properly wrapped, fennel will keep up for up to one week in the fridge. To avoid plastic, you can also keep fennel in a cup of water on the counter, but try to use it within a few days as it gets tougher and loses flavor as it ages.

I like to think of fennel as a superfood. Why? Not only does it support our digestive systems, but every part of it is also edible. Yeah, you read that right: bulb, fronds, flowers, stalk, and seeds! Separate the stalks from the bulb then quarter the bulb and slice or dice as you see fit. The stalks are slightly tougher so they work best in recipes that have a long cooking time, like stews or braises. As for the fronds, use these as you would with any other tender herbs, cooked or strewn on top of your dish as a garnish.

3. All the ways to enjoy in season fennel

If crunchy with a hint of black licorice isn’t your thing—I know you’re out there—then it’s probably best to cook fennel. When roasted or caramelized, fennel takes on a whole other personality, shedding its licorice flavor for something incredibly sweet and floral, akin to caramelized onions. Cook it down into a fennel risotto or soup, or toss it with melty cheese and crispy breadcrumbs for a casserole. Fennel works especially well with fatty fish and other types of seafood, but that shouldn’t deter you from using it with meat and vegetable dishes too—even desserts like this fennel ice cream are worth venturing into.

Beyond the vegetable itself, there are also the seeds, which can be used on their own or in spice mixes such as Chinese five-spice. Warm and sweet, they lend themselves especially well to curries, roasts, stews, bread—pretty much anything that includes heat, as this really draws out their flavors. They can also be crushed and steeped in hot water or honey for a fennel tea or fennel-spiked honey.

4. What to make next

All week long, we'll be featuring new fennel recipes on Kitchen Stories. Check back to see what's new, then try one for yourself! Here's where to start:

White bean and fennel dip

White bean and fennel dip

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Fennel, arugula, and apple salad

Fennel, arugula, and apple salad

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5-ingredient chickpea pancakes with fennel and olives

5-ingredient chickpea pancakes with fennel and olives

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Honey pulled salmon with oranges and fennel

Honey pulled salmon with oranges and fennel

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5-ingredient buttery fennel and leek orzo risotto

5-ingredient buttery fennel and leek orzo risotto

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Fennel salad with grapes and goat cheese

Fennel salad with grapes and goat cheese

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Bean cassoulet with fennel, bacon, and Italian sausage

Bean cassoulet with fennel, bacon, and Italian sausage

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What’s your favorite way to prepare fennel? Let us know in the comments below or upload your best fennel recipe to our app and share it with our community!

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