Guide to Fennel

With the flavor of sweet anise, fennel is divine raw or cooked.

Don't let an aversion to black jelly beans keep you away from fennel. Native to the Mediterranean region, this licorice-flavored member of the parsley family is one of Italy's most popular vegetables.

Work with it, and you will find that the aromatic plant lends itself well to a wider variety of foods than you might have first suspected. Another benefit: one cup contains almost 20 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin C. Most fennel available in American markets is grown in California. The type you'll find-Florence, or bulb, fennel (sometimes labeled "fresh anise")-has a bulbous base, stalks like celery, and feathery leaves that resemble Queen Anne's lace. Like celery, the entire plant is edible. The crisp and slightly sweet bulb is especially delicious served raw in salads. Whether braised, sautéed, roasted, or grilled, the bulb mellows and softens with cooking.

Look for small, heavy, white bulbs that are firm and free of cracks, browning, or moist areas. The stalks should be crisp, with feathery, bright-green fronds. Wrapped in plastic, fennel keeps for just a few days in the refrigerator; the flavor fades as it dries out.

The Whole Fennel

• Fennel seeds don't come from bulb fennel but from common, or wild, fennel. The seeds are slightly nutty, with the expected licorice flavor, and are widely used in sausages, stews, soups, and curries.

• Fennel stalks can take the place of celery in soups and stews, and can be used as a "bed" for roasted chicken and meats.

• Use fronds as a garnish, or chop them and use as you would other herbs, like dill or parsley. Chopped fennel works especially well in Italian tomato sauces, but add it late in the cooking process so the flavor isn't diluted.

Bulb Basics

• Trim the stalks about an inch above the bulb.

• If you want pieces to stay together for grilling, keep the root end intact. Otherwise, trim about a half inch off the root end before cooking.

• To slice fennel, stand the bulb on the root end and cut vertically. –Kris Wetherbee