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How to cook Fennel

How to cook Fennel


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The aromatic leaves are excellent in herbal teas and salads, or stuffed into fish before baking or roasting. The bulb can be eaten raw in salads, too, and should be thinly sliced. Fennel can also be steamed, baked, braised or roasted and is commonly used in Italian and French cuisine.

Fennel seeds are used widely as a spice, and the feathery tops (fronds) are also edible – use them as a garnish or tossed through salads for an aniseedy kick.

HOW TO PREPARE FENNEL

READ: Quick and easy recipes

WHAT IS FENNEL?

Fennel is a flowering plant with a distinctive aniseed flavour that works particularly well with seafood. Eat it raw in super-thin slices, or roast down until it becomes beautifully soft.

WHEN IS FENNEL IN SEASON?

Fennel is available throughout the year, but is at its peak over the summer months.

HOW TO STORE FENNEL

Fennel should be kept in the fridge for maximum freshness.


What are the health benefits?

Fennel is a source of potassium. Potassium helps our muscles to work properly so we can move around.


The absolute best way to cook fennel (because this underappreciated veggie deserves a Renaissance)

By Michael La Corte
Published February 20, 2021 5:36PM (EST)

Fennel (Illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

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When asked for my favorite vegetable, I never hesitate.

I cook a dish which I deem an excellent "gateway vehicle" to the wonder of fennel for many of my friends, and I've gone to absurd lengths in order to convert many a licorice-averse acquaintance to embrace the beauty of this vegetable. One of them never fails to joke about the amount of fennel dishes I've brought to various "Friendsgiving" events (pre-COVID, of course!) over the years.

Whether shaved, raw, braised, roasted or sauteéd, I'll never turn down fennel. And if you're one of those people who doesn't necessarily stock up on this gnarled and unique vegetable, maybe I can convince you to add some to your next grocery list.

What is fennel?

Fennel — sometimes called anise or "finocchio" in Italian households — is a bulbous, off-white vegetable that has fibrous green stalks (almost celery-like) and frilly, herb-esque "fronds" (similar to dill). Very popular in Italy, it's traditionally included in many fish dishes. It's also often served as a "palate cleanser" — many a family often serves small plates of raw, thinly sliced shards of fennel that are munched in between courses. When raw, the flavor is very herbal and licorice-focused, but when cooked, it becomes very mild. Fennel is also good for you: Cooking Light notes that fennel packs tons of iron, fiber and potassium into each bulb.

Raw fennel palate cleanser

This "preparation" of fennel is the only exposure that many people ever have to this vegetable. But that's for a good reason: The clean flavor of thinly sliced raw fennel is an exceptional means of transitioning from one course to another.

  1. Cut stalks/stems off of fennel, cut the bulbs in half and cut on a bias to remove the core. Repeat with remaining fennel halves. Be sure to remove any bruised, discolored and/or extra-thick outer pieces. Clean and dry well.
  2. Slice thinly into "shards" of fennel, or — if you have it — use a mandolin to thinly slice.
  3. For a traditional palate cleanser, embrace fennel at its simplest, and serve as is between meals/courses.
  4. Alternatively, serve with bowls of orange segments (raw fennel pairs exceptionally well with citrus), pistachios, olives, etc.

The following is my aforementioned "gateway vehicle" recipe. One of my absolute favorite dishes in the world, this recipe has only a few ingredients, and it's immensely simple to make. But don't let that fool you: The cheeses meld together to form the most delicious, frico-laced roasted and blistered fennel imaginable.

Recipe: Roasted Fennel with Gruyere and Parm

Serves: 3-4 (and/or one especially hungry human being)

Time: about 1 hour, start to finish

vegetarian, nut-free, low-carb

  • 2-3 fennel bulbs, depending on size
  • 6 oz. block of gruyere, shredded
  • 1/2 cup grated parm
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp garlic powder
  • 1.5 tsp onion powder

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Cut stalks/stems off of fennel, cut the bulbs in half and cut on a bias to remove the core. Repeat with remaining fennel halves.

3. Slice fennel — not especially thinly, but not in enormous chunks.

4. Toss fennel slices with EVOO, salt, pepper, garlic power and onion powder.

5. Roast for a half hour, stir and rotate pan, add grated cheese and parm.

6. Broil or continue to roast for another 15-20 minutes, until the cheeses melt into the fennel, the fennel begins to blister and the cheese starts to darken and caramelize.

Tip: You can also reserve the fennel fronds, and finely chop them to add a *garnish* element. (This also spruces up this generally beige-white dish with some greenery.)

Other flavor combos to try

Fennel salad with blood orange and hazelnuts

The fennel salad is immensely popular and delicious in its many variations, but I find that the crossroads of paper-thin, crunchy and refreshing fennel in conjunction with juicy, bright citrus and the crunch of hazelnut to be irresistible.

Crostini with fennel ala baba ghanouj

Though the fennel doesn't necessarily break down like eggplant does naturally, topping garlic-brushed grilled baguette with an alluring mix of braised fennel, tahini, garlic and olive oil is an incredible way to welcome guests.

More ways to up your game in the kitchen:

Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. Salon has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. He loves hard cheeses, extra-crispy chicken cutlets, chocolate-coated candied orange peels, any and all pasta dishes, croissants, peach juice, coffee and admittedly stans Mountain Dew — as damning as that may be. He is a burgeoning movie buff and has an irrational distaste for potato bread. He is especially passionate about music, social justice advocacy, his loved ones and his dog, Winston.


How to Use Fennel: A Beginner's Guide

Fennel is a hugely versatile vegetable that grows easily, keeps well, and forms the basis of many dishes, from appetisers to desserts, particularly in Italian cuisine.

Imparting distinctive, yet subtle aniseed notes that vary in intensity, depending on whether it's eaten raw or cooked, knowing how to use fennel gives you access to a wonderfully useful vegetable.

If you are a beginner with fennel, here's a simple guide to get you started from slicing the bulb to cooking techniques and recipes.


How to Cook Fennel

One of my favorite things about fennel is that its character changes depending on how you cut it. And with this vegetable, how you cut it and how you cook it go hand in hand.

If I’m craving raw fennel, I almost always thinly shave the bulb on my mandoline, removing any tough core pieces. Then, I marinate it in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. This crisp, thinly sliced fennel is delicious on its own or in a larger salad. Dress it up with herbs, nuts, and shaved Parmesan cheese, toss it with greens and simple vinaigrette, or use it in one of these salad recipes:

Shaving fennel is also a great move if you want to sauté it. The thin slices will melt and brown in the pan, taking on a delicious caramelized flavor. Try this technique in my Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Recipe!

If I plan to roast fennel, I slice it 1/2-inch wedges. First, I clip off the stalks so that I’m left with the white bulb. I cut it in half vertically and then cut each half into several wedges.

To roast the wedges, spread them cut-side-down on a baking sheet with a little space between each one. Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until the wedges are tender and caramelized around the edges.

Serve the wedges as a side dish with a squeeze of lemon or add them to a salad. You could also remove the tough core pieces and toss the roasted fennel with pasta or add it to a hearty vegetarian lasagna.


15 fabulous fennel recipes

Find great ways to cook with fabulous fennel in this collection of tasty fennel recipes. This lightly sweet, aromatic herb will soon win you over!

Unfamiliar with fennel?
Fennel plants produce both bulbs and seeds. Fennel bulbs have white flesh, green stalks and dill-like leaves, while fennel seeds, with its minty flavour, are used mostly as a spice from dried seeds of the fennel plant.

If you plan to prepare recipes with fennel, "start small," Test Kitchen food specialist Amanda Barnier says. "Sneak small amounts into soups, stews and salads."

"Fennel is so versatile, and is great raw or cooked," she adds.

How to cook with fennel
"Fennel can be boiled, braised, sauteed, grilled, roasted, steamed or eaten raw," Amanda says.

"Fennel is great combined with garlic + tomatoes + onion, asparagus, apples + arugula + blue cheeses, watercress + pears, pasta, fish, seafood, lamb, and potatoes."

Used often in Italian cooking, Amanda adds, "it's also great thrown into tomato sauces, over pizza, and baked into Focaccia bread."

Preparing raw fennel for salads
Fennel's anise-like sweetness makes it a wonderful addition to salads.

"Cut off the stalks close to the bulb," she says, "to slice fennel for a salad. Just cut across the bulb, as thick or thin as you like."

How to store fennel

"Wrap tightly in a plastic bag," Amanda says, "and refrigerate for up to one week."

Make fennel a part of your next meal with one of these fabulous fennel recipes:

Green Bean, Mushroom and Fennel Salad
This healthy lemon juice and olive oil dressed salad is an easy, delicious starter - and a cinch to make!

Apple Fennel Celery Salad
Fennel is edible all the way from its green stems to the pale white bulb using the whole vegetable is not only practical, but also adds a variety of pretty colours on your plate.



Roasted Squash, Onion and Fennel Toss
This medley of roasted vegetables is easy to make and packed with flavour. Best of all - it's a light dish.


Page 1 of 2 - Find more fennel recipes on page 2.

More fennel recipes:
Pulled Pork With Fennel Biscuits
Use fennel bulbs for a mouthwatering, fork-tender pulled pork filling, and fennel seeds for fresh-baked homestyle biscuits.


Mussels Steamed with Fennel, Lovage and Cherry Tomatoes
One-pot cooking can't get any tastier. These fresh, steamed mussels with shallots, garlic, fennel and aromatic lovage are a wonderful main!


Potato Fennel Gratin
Yukon Gold potatoes keep their golden hue and structure when cooked, making them an ideal choice for this dish. Serve with roast chicken, pork or fish.


Fennel and Roasted Vegetable Salad with Hazelnut Dressing
With eggplants, mushrooms, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, mixed greens, and a savour-to-the-last-drop hazelnut and sweet citrus dressing, this fennel salad is an absolute winner!


Chicken Braised with Lemon, Fennel and Garlic
Garlic becomes sweet as it cooks gently in this fennel-laced broth. The fennel fronds have a delicate flavour similar to dill. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.


Baked Fennel Parmesan
While we all look forward to the traditional side dishes of Christmas dinner, tender fennel under a blanket of crispy cheese adds new personality to the meal.


Salmon en Papillote with Fennel and Roasted Peppers
Fatty fish, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with lowering the risk of heart disease. Serve with Scalloped Potatoes.


Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
For added flair, sprinkle this refreshing citrus salad with flaky sea salt and toasted pecan halves.

Giant Meatballs in Tomato Fennel Sauce
Sure to be a big hit with kids, these great big meatballs have fabulous flavour and taste even better the next day. You might want to make a double batch and freeze half for later.


Lemon Herb-Rubbed Trout with Fennel Salad
When it comes to choosing fish for dinner, look for sustainable options. Farmed trout is a great fish to put on your plate - and it's a good choice to protect both the state of our oceans, and your health.


Fennel Pea Risotto
Two Italian classics - risotto and fennel - come together for a bistro-inspired dish you're sure to love.

Roasted Red Pepper, Fennel and Rice Stuffing
This stuffing is gluten- and dairy-free. If you use vegetable stock and heat it in a casserole dish, the stuffing is also vegetarian.


Page 2 of 2 - Learn how to cook and prepare fennel with our Test Kitchen expert on page 1.


How to Prepare Fennel to Cook

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Fennel, also known as sweet anise, has a long history in culinary and medicinal use. According to Greek mythology, fennel carried the fiery ember of knowledge from Mount Olympus to man. In the Middle Ages, "good" witches claimed fennel as their weapon of choice in battles with "evil" witches. Today, the bulbs of the plant make a delicious side dish or addition to green salads. Preparing fennel does not require special cooking skills or equipment. Once you know how to prepare fennel to cook, you can use both the bulb and the fern-like fronds to add a sweet, licorice-like flavor to vegetables, meats, salads, or soups.


Both the flavorful, crunchy bulb and aromatic seeds of the fennel plant are highly nutritious and may offer an abundance of impressive health benefits. Adding them to your diet may improve heart health, reduce inflammation, suppress appetite, and even provide anticancer effects.

Wash and clean the fennel bulb and remove the core which is too tough to eat. Slice through the bulb and cut off the core. You should trim off the leaves and stalks, and book them for later use like garnish if you like.


6. Pickled Fennel

Pickled foods are super-healthy and they are quicker to make than you might think. They make great condiments or toppings for sandwiches. To make Pickled Fennel: take 4 small heads of fennel and cut the stalks away. Slice the bulbs in half and take the cores out. Slice the bulbs thinly with a mandoline and put them in a colander. Sprinkle 2 Tbs. kosher salt over the fennel and allow it to sit for about an hour to remove excess liquid. Squeeze out the excess liquid and transfer the fennel to a large bowl. Season with ½ tsp. black pepper. If you like, you can add some citrus, such as orange slices, for an extra-bright flavor. Transfer the fennel to a jar or air-tight container and cover with 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. Make sure the fennel is coated with the vinegar. Keep the covered jar or container in the fridge for several hours or overnight before serving. Check out How to Add More Pickled Foods to Your Diet for more pickling ideas.


Serving fennel

You can eat every part of this plant. I&rsquoll start with the bulb.

Prepping a fennel bulb is simple: just cut off the base and stalks, and wash it. (But don&rsquot throw away the stalks!) You can immediately cut it up and serve it raw in a salad or on sandwiches or by itself as a snack.

I find the less you cook it, the better it tastes, and raw is delicious. My personal favorite way to cook it is steamed 12-15 minutes because this really preserves the raw flavor.

You can also boil it for no more than ten minutes. I don&rsquot even add a touch of salt or pepper &ndash I love it just the way it is. You might like to butter it, too.

I prefer it without butter, but it&rsquos good either way. You can also bake it with a cream or cheese sauce.

You can also grill it with olive oil or saute it in butter (with onions or garlic, if you like). Cut it up much the way you would an onion.

Optional seasonings include: salt, pepper, basil, saffron, garlic, terragon, cloves, bay leaf or chives. You can squeeze some lemon or lime onto it, too.

Roast it with seafood or chicken. Fennel is absolutely perfect with seafood as either a side dish or cooked in with the meat.


Top 5 Ways to Use Fennel Stalks & Fronds

Most recipes with fennel, like our Shaved Fennel, Roasted Tomato, and Pistachio Salad from yesterday, focus on the crunchy bulb, leaving us in a lurch when it comes to the leftover stalks and fronds. Fennel tops are tasty too! No sense in letting these greens go to waste. Here are some favorite ways to use them up.

The lacy fronds have a delicate anise flavor and are so tender that they practically melt in your mouth. Think of them as herbs, just like dill or tarragon. They don’t hold up well to long cooking, but are best used fresh.

The stalks also have that signature mild licorice flavor, but are much tougher. To use them raw, I like to chop them very finely to break apart their tough fibers. They also do well if cooked.

1. Add the Leafy Fronds to Salads: Strip the fronds from the stalks and toss them in your next green salad. They’ll add just the faintest hint of licorice to each bite.

2. Make Fennel Pesto: As Sara Kate would be quick to point out, any green is pesto waiting to happen. Try tossing fennel pesto with pasta or rubbing it onto meat before roasting.

3. Use Stalks and Fronds for Cooking Fish: Fennel and fish have been best friends since the dawn of cooking. Whether you’re grilling, poaching, or steaming, laying a few stalks and fronds alongside the fish will infuse the fish with sweet fennel-tastic flavor.

4. Juice ‘Em Up: If you have a juicer, you need look no further. You won’t get a lot of juice from the tops (unless you have a lot of fronds!), but what you do get can be mixed with other juiced fruits and vegetables.

5. Save for Stock: If inspiration fails to strike, at the very least you can stick the stalks and fronds in the freezer and save them for the next time you make vegetable or chicken stock. It’s not for everyone, but I really like the sweet undertone that fennel gives to stocks.


Our best recipes with fennel

For a taste of raw fennel's incredible, fresh flavour, try it in a salad with golden beetroots. The sweetness from the beets combined with the raw fennel is a match made in heaven when topped with a zingy citrus dressing that brings the dish together. This is particularly great as a part of a summer barbecue spread. You can also try fennel in a refreshing take on classic coleslaw or pair with the sweetness of crab meat and the zestiness of orange.

Under the Olive Tree/Headline

Roasted fennel's sweet notes work incredibly well with a selection of roasted roots, dressed in garlic, sage and rosemary. These earthy flavours will be a fine accompaniment to any roasted meat. Fennel can also be used as the bed for roasting meat like in this roast pork belly recipe. For a lighter take on roasted fennel, try a one-pan bake of new potatoes, fennel, asparagus and sausages &ndash excellent for when you're short on time.

The lightness of fennel pairs incredibly well with the richness of butter and cream so it's an excellent addition to gratins and similar bakes. Try it with leek and Parmesan or in an indulgent pasta bake with Parma ham.

Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma/loveFOOD

Don't forget to add any leftover fennel stalks or bulbs to a vegetable stock and add a jar of fennel seeds to your spice rack &ndash these can be used for marinating chicken, to flavour slow-cooked lamb, to add depth to a rich meat ragù or to add fragrance to a slow-cooked short rib pho.

Cover image: Ekaterina Kondratova/Shutterstock

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