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Fennel is a generally divisive vegetable. Crisp, with a distinct anise flavor, it can be overpowering for some people. I like my fennel in small doses. Sliced super thin on a mandoline and tossed with citrus segments and a nice lemony vinaigrette, it's a great winter salad that goes well with sausages, terrines, and other charcuterie. Just after we shot this video, we threw the sliced fennel together with the pomegranate we'd just seeded and tossed it all with olive oil and vinegar. Delicious.
Seafood is another natural partner. Stew some fennel and onions with a can of tomatoes and a pinch of saffron, and you've got the perfect base for a seafood stew (or even chicken, if you'd like). If you manage to find some nice young fennel bulbs, try roasting them whole with a bit of olive oil. They sweeten up just like an onion and develop a good, caramelized crust.
The frilly green fronds that grow out of the top are perfectly edible and make a pretty garnish. Even the dark green stalks can be used. Save them and add them to chicken, vegetable, or fish stocks to add a slight aniseed undertone. I also like to slice them up very thin and cook them down slowly in simple syrup until they become tender enough to eat and use them as a garnish on ice cream or other desserts.
Of course, like most vegetables, they're really healthy too.
Shopping and Storage
With fennel, just like the characters in an episode of Thundercats: the good guys and the bad guys are easy to identify. Look for fennel bulbs that are pale green or white with no discoloration. The first thing you'll notice when fennel is past its prime is browning at the edges of each layer, so check there first. The layers should be tightly packed, and the fronds should be bright green and vigorous.
In its whole form, fennel will last about a week in a loosely closed plastic bag in the vegetable crisper door in the refrigerator, but once you cut it, it rapidly browns, so chop it just before using.
What do you all like doing with your fennel?