Fennel – lovely fennel
Fennel is one of those vegetables that shouts Mediterranean cuisine to me. If you like aniseed flavour as I do, add some finely chopped to dishes such as ratatouille, or minestrone and you will find it improves the depth and richness of flavour. It’s a vegetable well worth growing yourself as it really should be eaten no more than two days after picking; the fennel sold in green grocers is often dehydrated and stringy. Picked fresh, at just the right stage, it is juicy enough to slice very finely in a salad or tangy coleslaw. Delicious! Italians eat it raw in wedges served with olive oil and salt, or grilled and marinated in an antipasto. Years ago I used to steam and then serve the bulbs with a Gratin sauce, and I still like to serve this as an accompaniment to fish or chicken dishes. It is great value in the vege garden too, as all of the plant can be used; I have substituted the feathery green tops for dill at a pinch and juiced the stalks and added them to a vege juice. If you find you have a plant that hasn’t formed a big bulb or find one that is reshooting from the cut base, let it develop seeds and harvest these for culinary purposes. The seeds are similar in flavour to Caraway or Dill.
Fennel seeds, once upon a time, were thought to cure everything from mad dog bite to obesity and to ward off ghosts! One use that still has some currency is as an aid to digestion; Fennel seed is commonly eaten, either sugar-coated or plain, at the end of meals in India and Pakistan.
I have had a little trouble, some years, in the sub-tropics with drying seeds as they are often ready at the beginning of the Wet. The air is often so humid here that the seeds don’t air dry perfectly. So what I do is when the seeds are brown and almost dry, I cut the seed heads and transfer them to a dry place even into an almost cool oven or food dryer at a very low temperature Once dry, store in a jar away from heat and light and you will have the flavour all year round. Put in breads and on savoury pastry or grind them into a paste with garlic, pepper and sea salt and use to baste a strongly flavoured fish such as mackerel or mullet.
You might like to plant one of the bronze varieties as they look particularly splendid as a foliage plant in edible landscaping, as well as being equally delicious, of course!