Is it celery? Is it an onion? No, it’s fennel.
This pale green bulb with long stalks could be mistaken at first glance for some of its vegetable kin, but its feathery fronds and flavor are distinctive.
According to Janice Gregg of the Oregon State University Extension Service’s Oregon Family Nutrition Program, fennel’s sweet taste — often compared to licorice or anise — makes it an ideal match for light meats such as fish or chicken.
The bulb, stalk and leaves can all be eaten. One cup of fennel contains almost 20 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin C, Gregg said.
She adds that many people don’t purchase fennel because they either don’t know what to do with it or find it too expensive.
“People need to remember that a little fennel goes a long way,” she said.
There are many ways to prepare fennel. Here are a few:
• Boiling: Cut fennel bulbs in half lengthwise. In a wide frying pan, oil four to six fennel halves and place in 1/2 inch of water. Cover. Cook until tender when pierced (about 8 to 10 minutes).
• Butter-steaming: Cut fennel crosswise into 1/4-inch-think slices. Butter-steam up to five cups using one to two tablespoons of butter or margarine. Cook, stirring until just tender-crisp to bite (2 to 3 minutes).
• Grilling: Cut each fennel bulb lengthwise into four equal slices. Grill until streaked with brown and tender when pierced (about 20 minutes).
• Steaming: Cut fennel bulbs in half lengthwise; arrange on rack. Steam until tender when pierced (18 to 22 minutes).
“If you don’t like fennel one way, try it a different way,” Gregg said. “Fennel has a different taste raw verses cooked.”
When purchasing, you want to avoid fennel with flowering buds, which indicate that is it too mature. Store it wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for up to four days.
When you are ready to use it, rinse the vegetable thoroughly. Trim stalks within 3/4 to 1 inch of the bulb. Discard the hard outside stalks and reserve leaves for seasoning and garnish. Cut away and discard bulb base.
Fennel with red bell peppers
3 to 4 fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped.
1/2 cup whipping cream
Cut off fennel leaves; chop enough to make 1/3 cup and set aside. Cut off and discard stalks. Cut bulbs in half lengthwise; then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a wide frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until onion is soft. Add remaining butter and fennel slices to the pan. Cook, stirring until fennel is just tender-crisp to bite (about 2 minutes). Transfer to a serving dish.
Pour cream into pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and continue to boil, stirring until reduced by half. Pour over fennel mixture and sprinkle with fennel leaves.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Sunset vegetable cookbook
Fennel and pepper coleslaw
1 medium fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
2 medium red bell peppers, thinly sliced
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise, regular
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 tablespoon cider vinegar.
Combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl; toss well. Let stand at least 10 minutes to blend the flavors.
2 fennel bulbs (thick base of stalk), stalks cut off, bulbs sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Placed sliced fennel in a baking dish.
Coat with olive oil
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes
Adapted by Amanda Robbins from www.simplyrecipes.com
Oven potatoes with fennel
20 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and cut in 1-inch slices
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to tastes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. In large bowl, combine potatoes, fennel, onion, parsley, oil, salt and pepper; toss gently until well coated.
Arrange mixture in a single layer on a prepared baking sheet. Bake, turning occasionally until potatoes are crisp on all sides, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve immediately.
Apple and fennel salad
5 ounces fresh spinach
1 small fennel head, sliced
2 medium granny smith apples
1 small sweet onion, sliced
celery seed dressing (below)
Peel and cube the apples. Thoroughly wash spinach, removing fibrous stems. Dry and place in salad bowl. Add fennel, apples and onions. Toss with celery seed dressing.
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 tablespoon horseradish (optional)
2 teaspoons grated onion
1/3 cup vinegar (divided)
1 cup salad oil
Combine sugar, mustard, salt, celery seed, onion, horseradish and half the vinegar in a blender or food processor. Blend on high and slowly add oil. Blend in remaining vinegar. Refrigerate.
Glazed fennel and onions
2 pounds fennel bulbs
1/3 cup butter, margarine or olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, sliced
3 tablespoons beef or vegetable broth
Thinly slice fennel crosswise. Melt butter in a 5- to 6-quart pan over medium-low heat. Add fennel and onion; cover and cook until vegetables are soft (about 5 minutes).
Uncover; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until juices have evaporated and vegetables are golden (about 15 minutes).
Add broth and cook, stirring until vegetables are evenly moist.
Season to taste with salt. Chop fennel leaves; sprinkle over fennel-onion mixture.
Makes 4 servings.
Sunset cookbook: Fresh Produce A to Z