The fennel plant is perhaps best known for its licorice-scented seeds, used to flavor everything from baked goods to Italian sausage. But the crunchy bulb itself has a delicious, delicate anise flavor, and the feathery fronds add an herbaceous note to salads and soups. Cultivated in Italy for hundreds of years, fennel has only recently become widely popular as an ingredient in the United States. Raw, the bulb has a light licorice perfume that becomes even more delicate when cooked. Try shaving it thin and tossing it with olives and citrus for a crunchy salad, blending it into a creamy, aromatic soup, or slicing and baking it until tender with cream and bread crumbs for a hearty side dish.
HOW TO BUY
Look for bright white, unblemished, firm bulbs; the cut bottom of the bulb shouldn’t have more than a trace of browning. We prefer to buy fennel with the stalks still attached, but if it’s not available that way, check for cut ends that aren’t dried out.
HOW TO STORE
Like lettuce and celery, fennel has a high water content that makes it prone to freezing in overly cold refrigerators. Store it loosely wrapped in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Avoid storing it next to ethylene gas–releasing fruits such as apples, apricots, melons, and figs.
HOW TO PREPARE
Trim the bottom of the bulb and peel off any wilted or browning layers from the outside. If not using the stalks, save them to add to salads and stocks. The fronds have a delicate anise flavor and make a nice garnish; rinse them in cold water and pat dry with kitchen towels before using.