The fennel plant is distinctive with its white, bulbous base and green, feathery stalk. Used both as a vegetable and a spice, fennel dates back to the Ancient Greeks and has been long-revered for its curative properties. High in Vitamin C, and a good source of folate and potassium, fennel is an easy addition to an array of dishes. If you have never tasted finocchio (as it is called in Italian), or prepared it at home, you may wish to give this versatile vegetable a try.
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When selecting fennel, look for a firm bulb and bright green stalk. It should be sturdy and crisp; not limp or mushy. If you are not going to use the fennel right away, you can keep it in the fridge (preferably in a paper bag) for three to five days.
When you are ready to prepare the fennel, the bulb--which is actually a collection of tightly-packed leaves--should be removed from the stalk. Simply cut the white base away from the green area with a knife. The stalk and fronds can be saved for later use in soups and other recipes that call for garnish or added flavour.
You can eat fennel either raw or cooked. When raw, it boasts a more pronounced flavour; when cooked, the mild anise-like flavours mellow. No matter how you are going to serve the fennel, a basic slicing technique can be applied. Cut the bulb into quarters and remove the inner core; the outer leaves may also be a bit tough and can be tossed. Each of the quarter pieces can then be cut into fine slices, preferably with the grain.
Raw fennel slices are traditionally paired with citrus for a light, crisp salad. Fennel also pairs well with apples and nuts. A light vinaigrette dressing will add a nice tang. If you wish to cook the fennel, it can be sautéed or roasted--and added to any number of recipes from pizza and soup to stuffing and baked fish. It is easily roasted with a coating of olive oil and some salt, at 204 degrees Cor approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
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