Common fennel or Foeniculum Vulgare is a perennial herb who's leaves, seeds and stems are harvested for cooking. It is a member of the Parsley Family and grows from 3-5 feet tall. The leaves are very similar to dill, as are the flowers, which bloom in the late summer and the fall. It's not only a pretty herb in the garden, but it's a wonderful addition in the kitchen for cooking.
Fennel can easily be grown from seed sown directly into the soil in the early spring or the late summer for a fall crop. The soil should be well drained and in full sun with plenty of room. Try growing some in a large clay pot, thinning the seedlings as they grow to just 1 or 2 per pot. Once fennel is established it does well in drought like conditions. You can also plant seeds in the fall for germination in the spring. One warning: do not plant near beans, caraway, tomatoes, coriander or wormwood-they do not work well together.
Once your plant is about 6 inches high you can begin harvesting the young leaves, but only pick the top 2 inches, so it will continue to grow well. The leaves will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week with the stems in water, and the top covered with a loose plastic bag. Also, you can freeze the leaves in small plastic bags.
The seeds should be harvested in late summer as they ripen so they don't scatter-watch carefully and remove the heads AS SOON as they turn from green to brown.
The seeds can be dried by dropping the heads in a paper sack and leaving there until dry. When dried store the seed in jars in a dry, dark location for up to 6 months.
Cooking with fennel has many possibilities. Sprinkle the flowers in salads or use them in herbal vinegars. The leaves can used in soups, stews, salads, dips and
marinades. The seeds are wonderful in breads, cookies, cakes and salad dressings, as well as sausage dishes. Like dill, fennel is the perfect herb for fish. Add it to your basting sauces or place dried stalks on the grill while cooking seafood. When cooking with fennel leaves, add them at the last minute for the best flavor.
Special Butter for Fish
You will need:
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp. lemon juice
dash of salt and pepper
2 Tbs. chopped fennel leaves
Combine all and refrigerate. Use on baked or grilled fish.
Chinese Five-Spice Powder
Mix and store in an airtight jar:
1 Tbs. black pepper
1 Tbs. ground anise
1 Tbs. ground fennel seed
1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
Fish with Garlic and Fennel
3 pounds whole dressed fish
15 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper inside and out. Place the UNPEELED cloves of garlic inside the fish. In a large baking dish, lay the fennel branches, place the fish on top, and brush with olive oil. Bake for about 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven, brushing often with the olive oil.
Carrot Salad with Fennel
2 tablespoons chopped fennel leaves
3 cups grated carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Mix together the fennel and carrots. Whisk the oil, lemon and mustard together. Pour over the carrots and mix well. Cover and chill for one hour or more before serving, stirring occasionally.
About the Author Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer, wife and mom to three living in the Midwest. She is also editor of oldfashionedliving.com, where you will find articles on gardening, herbs, crafts and other old fashioned topics.