A few, or many, words about the edibility of fennel; also known as Tribonella foenum-graecum. Fennel is one of those love/hate type of edibles. The bulb and seeds have a mild licorices flavor that not every one is fond of. My favorite way to eat fennel, is to eat the seeds when they are fully formed but still green. A burst of wonderful yummy licorices!
So a little historical back ground. Consulting 75 Exceptional Herbs, Staub writes that fennel is native to southern Europe and SW Asia. Per Toussaint-Samat the Roman’s took fennel from Rome and transplanted the edible across northern Europe and Britton. Fennel was thought to cure anything and everything (as well as weight loss). A rather negative proverb, from the late Elizabethan period I believe went along the lines of “Sow fennel, sow sorrow”. I’m not sure about the sorrow part but I do highly recommend using fennel in many types of cooking.
The Florence Fennel is the one recommended for taste though the bronze fennel comes in a close second for both looks and taste for those curious on which to plant. The stems and seeds can be used dried but the leaves are recommended fresh only, as they become very unpleasant dried. To harvest the seeds, let the seeds start to turn brown on the stalk, then harvest the seed head. Place a brown paper bag over the seed head till the seeds fully ripen and dry, then shake the bag, letting gravity do the hard work of separating seed from plant. The bulb though is the star of the plant, being able to be eaten raw or cooked. Fennel works well with a variety of different types of meat and fruit, i.e. fish, chicken, pork and oranges. For the blanched bulbs, let the bulbs get to the size of golf balls then mound up around the bulbs from which the plant naturally blanches the bulbs and doubles in size. Or you can let the bulbs grow with out help and harvest as if you were on the wild hills of Italy!
A couple of dishes to try on whim:
Thinly sliced fennel with orange segments and dressed with a vinaigrette. The other would be a roasting hen surrounded by cubed fennel, sliced carrots and new potatoes with a bit of olive oil, roasted till the hen were done.
I have yet to try these two recipes. I do have another recipe to present shortly with fennel and pork and lots and lots of wine!