How to Cook Fennel


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Fennel adds welcomed dimension to a multitude of dishes, from salads to meats. Learn how to cut it, season it, and roast it to achieve optimum flavor.See More: Our Guide to Fennel

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The absolute best way to cook fennel (because this underappreciated veggie deserves a Renaissance)

By Michael La Corte
Published February 20, 2021 5:36PM (EST)

Fennel (Illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

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When asked for my favorite vegetable, I never hesitate.

I cook a dish which I deem an excellent "gateway vehicle" to the wonder of fennel for many of my friends, and I've gone to absurd lengths in order to convert many a licorice-averse acquaintance to embrace the beauty of this vegetable. One of them never fails to joke about the amount of fennel dishes I've brought to various "Friendsgiving" events (pre-COVID, of course!) over the years.

Whether shaved, raw, braised, roasted or sauteéd, I'll never turn down fennel. And if you're one of those people who doesn't necessarily stock up on this gnarled and unique vegetable, maybe I can convince you to add some to your next grocery list.

What is fennel?

Fennel — sometimes called anise or "finocchio" in Italian households — is a bulbous, off-white vegetable that has fibrous green stalks (almost celery-like) and frilly, herb-esque "fronds" (similar to dill). Very popular in Italy, it's traditionally included in many fish dishes. It's also often served as a "palate cleanser" — many a family often serves small plates of raw, thinly sliced shards of fennel that are munched in between courses. When raw, the flavor is very herbal and licorice-focused, but when cooked, it becomes very mild. Fennel is also good for you: Cooking Light notes that fennel packs tons of iron, fiber and potassium into each bulb.

Raw fennel palate cleanser

This "preparation" of fennel is the only exposure that many people ever have to this vegetable. But that's for a good reason: The clean flavor of thinly sliced raw fennel is an exceptional means of transitioning from one course to another.

  1. Cut stalks/stems off of fennel, cut the bulbs in half and cut on a bias to remove the core. Repeat with remaining fennel halves. Be sure to remove any bruised, discolored and/or extra-thick outer pieces. Clean and dry well.
  2. Slice thinly into "shards" of fennel, or — if you have it — use a mandolin to thinly slice.
  3. For a traditional palate cleanser, embrace fennel at its simplest, and serve as is between meals/courses.
  4. Alternatively, serve with bowls of orange segments (raw fennel pairs exceptionally well with citrus), pistachios, olives, etc.

The following is my aforementioned "gateway vehicle" recipe. One of my absolute favorite dishes in the world, this recipe has only a few ingredients, and it's immensely simple to make. But don't let that fool you: The cheeses meld together to form the most delicious, frico-laced roasted and blistered fennel imaginable.

Recipe: Roasted Fennel with Gruyere and Parm

Serves: 3-4 (and/or one especially hungry human being)

Time: about 1 hour, start to finish

vegetarian, nut-free, low-carb

  • 2-3 fennel bulbs, depending on size
  • 6 oz. block of gruyere, shredded
  • 1/2 cup grated parm
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp garlic powder
  • 1.5 tsp onion powder

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Cut stalks/stems off of fennel, cut the bulbs in half and cut on a bias to remove the core. Repeat with remaining fennel halves.

3. Slice fennel — not especially thinly, but not in enormous chunks.

4. Toss fennel slices with EVOO, salt, pepper, garlic power and onion powder.

5. Roast for a half hour, stir and rotate pan, add grated cheese and parm.

6. Broil or continue to roast for another 15-20 minutes, until the cheeses melt into the fennel, the fennel begins to blister and the cheese starts to darken and caramelize.

Tip: You can also reserve the fennel fronds, and finely chop them to add a *garnish* element. (This also spruces up this generally beige-white dish with some greenery.)

Other flavor combos to try

Fennel salad with blood orange and hazelnuts

The fennel salad is immensely popular and delicious in its many variations, but I find that the crossroads of paper-thin, crunchy and refreshing fennel in conjunction with juicy, bright citrus and the crunch of hazelnut to be irresistible.

Crostini with fennel ala baba ghanouj

Though the fennel doesn't necessarily break down like eggplant does naturally, topping garlic-brushed grilled baguette with an alluring mix of braised fennel, tahini, garlic and olive oil is an incredible way to welcome guests.

More ways to up your game in the kitchen:

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Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. He loves hard cheeses, extra-crispy chicken cutlets, chocolate-coated candied orange peels, any and all pasta dishes, croissants, peach juice, coffee and admittedly stans Mountain Dew — as damning as that may be. He is a burgeoning movie buff and has an irrational distaste for potato bread. He is especially passionate about music, social justice advocacy, his loved ones and his dog, Winston.


Roasted Fennel

Elise founded Simply Recipes in 2003 and led the site until 2019. She has an MA in Food Research from Stanford University.

Fennel is a wonderfully versatile vegetable. It resembles a peeled onion bulb that someone has pressed between their hands so it's no longer round, with a green celery-like stalk and dill-ish fronds.

It has the cool crunch of celery with a strong note of licorice when you take a bite. It is lovely sliced thin and served with Parmesan in a salad, luscious and filling in a cheesy gratin, and absolutely delicious roasted.

Roasted, fennel caramelizes at the edges and loses its crunch. The licorice notes that were so discernible when the fennel was raw leave only a hint when roasted. Even people who run from anything licorice-ish (like my father) easily enjoy fennel when it is warm and roasted.

This simple dish of fennel roasted with olive oil and balsamic vinegar would be perfect with roast chicken, fish, or seafood.


How to prepare fennel

How to choose and store fennel

When buying fennel, start with the bulb. Nina Matsunaga, chef patron at the award-winning The Black Bull in Sedbergh, says you want it to have an almost asparagus-like squeakiness. Make sure it&rsquos plump, tight and white, there&rsquos no discolouration, bruising or soft spots. Check the root bottom &ndash this should have very little browning and the root should cover most of the base. "Ideally, you want to buy fennel that has healthy and intact fronds as well," Nina says. These should be bright green and rather fluffy but with no flowers &ndash usually an indicator a fennel bulb is past its peak maturity.

Antonio Raspone, executive chef at SW16 Bar & Kitchen, says it&rsquos best to use when it&rsquos at its peak quality from June to September. &ldquoUsing seasonal ingredients can really bring out the flavours in any dish as you&rsquore using the best version of the ingredient,&rdquo he adds.

If the fennel hasn&rsquot been trimmed already, do that at home, leaving around two to three inches of the stalks and save the fronds for garnish and salads. Nina advises shocking them in some ice water, so they retain their vibrant green colour. Wrap the bulb loosely in paper towel or plastic bag and keep in the fridge for up to five days.

Sabino Parente/Shutterstock

How to cut fennel bulb

Before preparing fennel, decide how you're cooking it. Salads call for thin, almost see-through shavings of raw fennel. This will also work great if you want to pickle or sauté it &ndash the shavings will caramelise nicely and have that melt-in-your-mouth texture. Ideally, prep it on a mandoline slicer and get rid of the tougher core pieces. Antonio advises to use a little water and lime juice on cut fennel to keep it from any discolouration.

If you want to roast fennel, the best way to do this is to cut the bulb into wedges. First, cut off the stalks if you haven&rsquot done that already and slice in half vertically. Then chop each side into four to six wedges, depending on how big the bulb is.

Make sure you don&rsquot toss the stalks and fronds out. The stalks can be cut and used in the same way you would cook celery stalks and fronds will work great in anything from salads to pasta &ndash you can even use it to flavour broths and garnish soups.

iMarzi/Shutterstock


15 fabulous fennel recipes

Find great ways to cook with fabulous fennel in this collection of tasty fennel recipes. This lightly sweet, aromatic herb will soon win you over!

Unfamiliar with fennel?
Fennel plants produce both bulbs and seeds. Fennel bulbs have white flesh, green stalks and dill-like leaves, while fennel seeds, with its minty flavour, are used mostly as a spice from dried seeds of the fennel plant.

If you plan to prepare recipes with fennel, "start small," Test Kitchen food specialist Amanda Barnier says. "Sneak small amounts into soups, stews and salads."

"Fennel is so versatile, and is great raw or cooked," she adds.

How to cook with fennel
"Fennel can be boiled, braised, sauteed, grilled, roasted, steamed or eaten raw," Amanda says.

"Fennel is great combined with garlic + tomatoes + onion, asparagus, apples + arugula + blue cheeses, watercress + pears, pasta, fish, seafood, lamb, and potatoes."

Used often in Italian cooking, Amanda adds, "it's also great thrown into tomato sauces, over pizza, and baked into Focaccia bread."

Preparing raw fennel for salads
Fennel's anise-like sweetness makes it a wonderful addition to salads.

"Cut off the stalks close to the bulb," she says, "to slice fennel for a salad. Just cut across the bulb, as thick or thin as you like."

How to store fennel

"Wrap tightly in a plastic bag," Amanda says, "and refrigerate for up to one week."

Make fennel a part of your next meal with one of these fabulous fennel recipes:

Green Bean, Mushroom and Fennel Salad
This healthy lemon juice and olive oil dressed salad is an easy, delicious starter - and a cinch to make!

Apple Fennel Celery Salad
Fennel is edible all the way from its green stems to the pale white bulb using the whole vegetable is not only practical, but also adds a variety of pretty colours on your plate.



Roasted Squash, Onion and Fennel Toss
This medley of roasted vegetables is easy to make and packed with flavour. Best of all - it's a light dish.


Page 1 of 2 - Find more fennel recipes on page 2.

More fennel recipes:
Pulled Pork With Fennel Biscuits
Use fennel bulbs for a mouthwatering, fork-tender pulled pork filling, and fennel seeds for fresh-baked homestyle biscuits.


Mussels Steamed with Fennel, Lovage and Cherry Tomatoes
One-pot cooking can't get any tastier. These fresh, steamed mussels with shallots, garlic, fennel and aromatic lovage are a wonderful main!


Potato Fennel Gratin
Yukon Gold potatoes keep their golden hue and structure when cooked, making them an ideal choice for this dish. Serve with roast chicken, pork or fish.


Fennel and Roasted Vegetable Salad with Hazelnut Dressing
With eggplants, mushrooms, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, mixed greens, and a savour-to-the-last-drop hazelnut and sweet citrus dressing, this fennel salad is an absolute winner!


Chicken Braised with Lemon, Fennel and Garlic
Garlic becomes sweet as it cooks gently in this fennel-laced broth. The fennel fronds have a delicate flavour similar to dill. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.


Baked Fennel Parmesan
While we all look forward to the traditional side dishes of Christmas dinner, tender fennel under a blanket of crispy cheese adds new personality to the meal.


Salmon en Papillote with Fennel and Roasted Peppers
Fatty fish, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with lowering the risk of heart disease. Serve with Scalloped Potatoes.


Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
For added flair, sprinkle this refreshing citrus salad with flaky sea salt and toasted pecan halves.

Giant Meatballs in Tomato Fennel Sauce
Sure to be a big hit with kids, these great big meatballs have fabulous flavour and taste even better the next day. You might want to make a double batch and freeze half for later.


Lemon Herb-Rubbed Trout with Fennel Salad
When it comes to choosing fish for dinner, look for sustainable options. Farmed trout is a great fish to put on your plate - and it's a good choice to protect both the state of our oceans, and your health.


Fennel Pea Risotto
Two Italian classics - risotto and fennel - come together for a bistro-inspired dish you're sure to love.

Roasted Red Pepper, Fennel and Rice Stuffing
This stuffing is gluten- and dairy-free. If you use vegetable stock and heat it in a casserole dish, the stuffing is also vegetarian.


Page 2 of 2 - Learn how to cook and prepare fennel with our Test Kitchen expert on page 1.


4. Braised Fennel

Fennel is known for its crunch but it’s also delicious when cooked in flavorful liquid until tender. You can braise it alone or mix it with other veggies like carrots and parsnips. To make Braised Fennel, Carrots and Parsnips: slice 4 parsnips and 4 carrots diagonally into ½”-inch pieces. Cut 2 fennel bulbs into quarters, cut the core out and chop the fennel. Reserve the fronds. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a deep saute pan and saute one chopped onion and 3 minced garlic cloves until softened. Add the parsnips, carrots and fennel to the pan and toss to mix with the onions. Add 1-2 cups vegetable broth, about ¼-inch high, and 1 tsp. dried thyme. Simmer covered for 25 minutes until the veggies are tender. Uncover and cook 5 more minutes. Garnish with the reserved fennel fronds.


How to make roasted fennel (basic steps)

Fennel is a member of the carrot family, though it looks like an onion that’s sprouted celery stalks and dill fronds! Alex and I started cooking with it in some of our Mediterranean style dishes years ago. We found that the flavor adds a beautifully unique element to soups and salads. And we recently discovered it works on its own as a side dish! Here are the basic steps to roasted fennel (or go to the recipe below):

  • Chop into wedges. Cut off the large top, and the root end. Remove any very tough outer layers (you may need to remove several). Cut the bulb in half and chop it into wedges.
  • Mix with olive oil and kosher salt. Then spread the slices onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees. You’ll want very high heat for fennel! This gets it perfectly caramelized and browned on the outside, and tender on the inside. (You’ll see the same technique with our roasted broccoli, roasted eggplant, roasted cauliflower, and more.)
  • Spritz with lemon juice and serve. Adding the tang of lemon before serving brightens the flavor.

How to Prepare Fennel to Cook

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Fennel, also known as sweet anise, has a long history in culinary and medicinal use. According to Greek mythology, fennel carried the fiery ember of knowledge from Mount Olympus to man. In the Middle Ages, "good" witches claimed fennel as their weapon of choice in battles with "evil" witches. Today, the bulbs of the plant make a delicious side dish or addition to green salads. Preparing fennel does not require special cooking skills or equipment. Once you know how to prepare fennel to cook, you can use both the bulb and the fern-like fronds to add a sweet, licorice-like flavor to vegetables, meats, salads, or soups.


Saut Fennel with Garlic

Recipe adapted from 'Greece: The Cookbook,' by Vefa Alexiadou

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2½ pounds (4 medium) fennel bulbs, quartered

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and garlic, and cook, turning as needed, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Add the tomato juice, salt and pepper, and cook, covered, over medium low until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the fennel fronds and lemon juice, then check the seasoning and serve.


  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 chocolate bar biscuit croissant topping
  • 1 jelly cotton candy
  • ½ jelly gummies
  • 2 cups liquorice chocolate
  • 2 jelly beans bonbon
  • 2 caramels tart gummi bears
  • 6 butterscotch caramel lollipops
  • 12 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup sugar

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Chupa chups sesame snaps chocolate cake tart icing chupa chups sesame snaps. Croissant marshmallow biscuit. Cookie topping wafer bonbon tootsie roll tart. Fruitcake topping tart caramels wafer donut topping pie pastry. Tiramisu caramels tiramisu marshmallow pudding pastry.

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Chupa chups sesame snaps chocolate cake tart icing chupa chups sesame snaps. Croissant marshmallow biscuit. Cookie topping wafer bonbon tootsie roll tart. Fruitcake topping tart caramels wafer donut topping pie pastry. Tiramisu caramels tiramisu marshmallow pudding pastry. Jelly jelly beans candy. Brownie muffin pastry cupcake cake dessert chocolate cake.

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Chupa chups sesame snaps chocolate cake tart icing chupa chups sesame snaps. Croissant marshmallow biscuit. Cookie topping wafer bonbon tootsie roll tart. Fruitcake topping tart caramels wafer donut topping pie pastry. Tiramisu caramels tiramisu marshmallow pudding pastry.

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Braised fennel and celeriac with pastis

For this dish, allow a minimum of one large fennel bulb per person.
The Vegetarian Option, by Simon Hopkinson (Quadrille)

Serves 2
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cut into 8 lengthways
1 medium celeriac, peeled and cut into chips
Salt and black pepper
50g butter
2-3 tbsp pastis
100ml white wine
Juice of 1 small lemon
2 tbsp chopped parsley

1 Set the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Heat the oil in a lidded, ovenproof cooking pot over a low-medium flame. Add the fennel and celeriac, season and turn them in the oil until lightly gilded – about 15 minutes or so.

2 Add the butter and allow to froth, then turn down the heat. Season and add the pastis and wine. Spoon these juices over the veg, add the lemon juice and bubble gently. Cover put in the oven for 1 hour, until soft and meltingly tender. Stir in the parsley and serve directly from the pot.


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