Florence fennel–which is also known as bulb fennel and in Italy as finnochio—is a pale-green, feathery-topped vegetable, with celery-like stems and swollen bulb-like base of overlapping broad layers.
Fennel can be served raw in wedges or sticks, finely sliced in salads, parboiled, steamed, stir-fried or sautéed, braised, or chopped and added to soups. The flavor of Florence is more delicate after it has been cooked.
The harvest season for this cool weather vegetable is early fall through spring.
Finnochio is the Italian word for fennel. It is thought that this hardy perennial originated near the Mediterranean at least four thousand years ago. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans cultivated fennel.
The aromatic seeds and leaves of the non-bulbing form of fennel—known as common fennel—were used in ancient times as now as an anise or licorice flavoring. Common fennel is sometimes mistakenly called sweet anise.
The bulb of Florence fennel—which is actually a base of thickened, overlapping leaf stems–is about the size of a large fist. The stems which can grow from 12 to 30 inches (30-76 cm) tall look a lot like celery. The flesh of the slightly striated stems has the texture of tender, crisp celery.
Growers sometimes earth up around the base of Florence fennel to blanch the bulb and make it even tenderer.
Florence fennel is grown primarily in Italy, France, Greece, and the United States.
Choose. Select fennel is unblemished with healthy stalks. Bulbs are equally delicious large or small. Fat, broad bulbs may be tenderer than elongated bulbs. Bulbs should look clean and crisp with no sign of browning. The leaves of fresh fennel are green, fluffy, and feathery.
Store. Fennel will keep in plastic bag in the refrigerator for about 3-5 days. You can freeze fennel if you blanch it first.
Prepare. Do not wash fennel until you are ready to use it. Chop off the stems and fronds where the pale bulb turns darker green. You can use the fronds as a garnish and seasoning. You can slice or chops the stems like celery.
Prepare the bulb like an onion, cutting it in half lengthwise through the bottom and stem ends. Trim and discard the bottom end.
Fennel will be crisper for serving raw if you soak it in iced water for 30 minutes before serving.
Serve. Use fennel raw or cooked after removing the tough outer leaves. Cook fennel as little as possible in order to preserve the flavor.
- Florence fennel can be grilled, braised, boiled, or sautéed. You can blanch, braise fennel with other vegetables. Purée cooked fennel, season with butter, salt and pepper as a side dish.
- Slice, long uncooked fennel strips and add them to salads.
- Fennel greens can be used as a garnish or snipped into a salad or other cold dishes like you would dill. Stir fennel greens into hot dishes at the last minute to enhance the flavor.
- Fennel compliments other vegetables and legumes, rabbit, pork, lamb, beef, fish, and seafood.
- Fennel seeds can be used to flavor cheese, bread, soups, sauces, pastries, and wine.
Nutrition. Fennel is an excellent source of potassium. It contains vitamin A, folic acid, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. There are 30 calories per cup.
The botanical name for Florence fennel is Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum.
The botanical name for common fennel which is grown for its seeds and pollen is Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce.