Happy Boy Produce

Fennel

    Fennel Fanfare

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Fennel

Posted by Tent

Fennel is quite the veggie chameleon. Part herb, part root vegetable, part spice, part green and all-around delicious, fennel is also the one of my favorite Happy Boy items to look at - and anthropomorphize - with its feathery tops, bright green, almost cartoonish, stalks and globular bottom bulbs. Fennel is a versatile ingredient for many types of cuisine and a variety of dishes.

I've read stories about Italian gold-rushers carrying fennel-seed in their packs, hoping to cultivate a flavor from home, and I think it makes sense considering how closely our climate matches the Mediterranean's. What makes our cultivated fennel preferable to the varieties growing wild in many parts of California, is its large, tasty bulbs perfect for roasting and other more hearty applications that we get to enjoy. These bulbs are also easily braised or grilled, and develop a sweeter and more complex flavor with heat and cooking.

People frequently ask us what they can do with the fennel stalks and feathery fronds. The answer - chop them up and throw them into salads or dressing for a hint of anise or licorice, or stick the whole top - frond, stalk, even the bulb if you want - into a lowly simmering soup stock or tomato sauce to add a rich flavor. They also make a great addition to fish or meat marinades, and if you are really stuck, try chewing on some after a big meal - you'll look tough, and it helps digest food {those little bowls of seeds at a lot of Indian restaurants contain fennel}.

The bulbs themselves are great for slicing into salads, roasting alone or with other root veggies, pureeing into soups and throwing onto the grill whole, brushed with a little olive oil. Cooked this way they can caramelize nicely, taste less like licorice, and when added to other veggies or meat, bring out subtle and unique flavors.

Storage

Choose fennel plants with large bulbs and healthy, vibrantly green stalks. The bulbs should appear moist and relatively un-bruised. If you are planning to keep the bulbs for a while, separate them from the stalks and keep them in a sealed container or re-used plastic bag in the crisper. Try to use the stalks as soon as possible.

Nutrition

Fennel seeds are widely believed to aid in digestion and the fronds have a calming effect on the stomach. I have certainly been known to chew on a sprig or two at market after one too many early morning tamales or tasty crepes.

Recipes and Pairings

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Fennel's unique flavors and attributes allow it work well with many other foods. It goes great with local seafood, red meat and sausages, pairs deliciously with citrus, leeks or cippoline onions and functions perfectly alone in creamy soups or salads. Try roasting with some tokyo turnips, beets and watermelon radishes, or creating a shaved fennel salads with chopped parsley and an orange/Dijon vinaigrette.