Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a licorice or anise taste. The pale green bulb, which has roots dating to ancient Mediterranean countries, is eaten raw and cooked. Its feathery fronds are chopped fresh into salads, and fennel seeds are common in a range of culinary applications. Fennel enhances many dishes, and its seeds and leaves are appropriate ingredient substitutes for anise and parsley, respectively.
Fresh fennel accents the natural flavors of fish and goes particularly well with fatty fish such as salmon and sardines. Braise or roast a whole fennel bulb and slice or chop it as a side dish for a grilled salmon dinner. For a tasty appetizer, stuff sardines with chopped garlic and fennel, bread the tiny portions and fry them until crisp in olive oil. Sprinkle chopped fennel bulb around snapper while baking it to infuse it with a light anise flavor. Crab, shrimp or mixed seafood salads have more flavor when chopped fennel fronds are included in the ingredients or salad dressing.
Salads and Antipasto
Italians enjoy fresh slices of fennel bulb simply dressed with lemon juice, salt and olive oil as the first course of meal. Add an interesting taste to a mixed green salad with chunks of fresh fennel, which has a hint of celery flavor and has a crunchy, crisp texture akin to fresh celery. Fresh chunks of fennel taste good with a variety of cheeses, and you can decorate the cheese platter with aromatic, feathery fennel fronds. Marinated fennel is available at Italian delicatessens or you can make your own and add it to your next antipasto platter to bring out the flavors of cured meats and roasted vegetables.
The best-tasting Italian sausages contain fennel seeds. The slightly sweet anise flavor of the seeds complements the hot spices in the sausage, mellows out their pungency and brings out the best tastes of the garlic in the meat mixture. Small amounts of fennel seeds give savory breads a slight anise flavor and delicate aroma. A few fennel seeds sprinkled on top right before baking enhance the sweetness of breakfast and dessert pastries.
Other Fennel Flavor Pairings
Instead of adding a lemon halves or garlic to the cavity of a roast chicken to give it added flavor and aroma, cut a fennel bulb into chunks and stuff it into the bird along with the fronds and stems of the plant to lightly season the poultry. For a delicate first course, cook fennel bulbs until tender and puree with them with cream and chicken broth to create a savory appetizer soup.