It has finally stopped snowing -- well at least in most of the country -- and we are getting a little giddy at the first peeps of ramps, Spring garlic, greens and asparagus. But while we are are waiting for the farmers markets to be flooded with new fruits and vegetables coming into season, we wanted to take a moment to bid a fond farewell to a favored vegetable that will soon be leaving us for a while: Fennel. While fennel is often found year-round, it is at its licorice-like best during its natural season from mid-fall through late spring. Like most cooler weather crops, the plant bolts and turns slightly bitter in warmer weather. So get your last licks in now.
What it is:
Fennel is a hardy, perennial, herb with a light but distinct anise, or licorice, flavor. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean region but grows and thrives throughout the world. It is highly aromatic and flavorful, with culinary and medicinal uses.
How to use it:
It's terrifically crisp and refreshing when eaten raw, but it also develops a savory sweetness when slowly cooked. The tall green stalks look like celery topped with wispy dill-like leaves. All parts are edible, from top to tip, although the mild, tender bulb is the most commonly used bit. And the seeds can be used as a spice. When buying fennel, look for firm bulbs that feel heavy for their size. Store it loosely wrapped in plastic in a not too cold fridge — like lettuce, fennel's high-ish water content makes it prone to freezing.
What some chefs are doing with it right now:
At Michael White's Ai Fiori
in NYC Chef de Cuisine PJ Calapa gently tosses charred razor clams, fennel, and chorizo with a manila clam vinaigrette. At 52 Main
, in Millerton NY, a lush baked cauliflower with Parmesan gets a savory depth and sweetness from fennel. At Tesori
in Chicago, Chef Andrew Duel is offering a tasting menu built entirely around fennel -- with a Fontina fennel onion pizza, a scallop floating in fennel-apple broth, with cider vinegar, diced apple, and more fennel, a burrata
topped with fennel caponata, tortellini stuffed with Italian sausage and fennel and a roasted veal loin stuffed with brioche, fennel and baby zucchini. And last week Charleston, South Carolina's Husk
was offering a season bridging crispy fried soft shell crab, warm asparagus and WV ramp salad, shaved garden vegetables, fennel and HUSK feta.