There are two main types of this aromatic plant, both with pale green, celery like stems and bright green, feathery foliage. Florence fennel, also called finocchio, is cultivated throughout the Mediterranean. It has a broad, bulbous base that’s treated like a vegetable. Both the base and stems can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in a variety of methods such as braising, sautéing or in soups.
The fragrant, graceful greenery can be used as a garnish or snipped like dill and used for a last minute flavour enhancer. The flavour of fennel is similar to but sweeter and more delicate than anise and, when cooked, becomes even lighter and more elusive than in its raw state. Common fennel is the variety from which the oval, greenish-brown fennel seeds are derived.
Though common fennel is bulb-less, its stems and greenery are used in the same ways as those of Florence fennel. Choose clean, crisp bulbs with no sign of browning. Any attached greenery should be a fresh green colour. Refrigerate, tightly wrapped in a plastic bag, for up to four days.Fennel is rich in Vitamin A and contains calcium, phosphorus and potassium.
The ancient Greeks and Romans used fennel seeds as a food-preserving agent. It grows wild in many coastal areas and on riverbanks. Nowadays it is a cultivated herb and is easy to grow from seeds. Once Fennel has established itself it needs very little attention. Fennel flowers in July and August. It is used in many fish dishes. It can also be added to salads and in many vegetable dishes and casseroles. The seeds can also be used in bread and cakes. It can be used fresh and can also be dried. It has quite a strong taste and has a slight aniseed flavour – it should be used in moderation.