Fennel can be polarizing. Many people are familiar with it only in the form of the fennel seeds commonly found in spice blends, where they're hidden away among other flavors. As a result, the first time they're exposed to fresh fennel, the mildly licorice-like flavor can be a surprise, and, if they're anything like me, it might take them years to come around to it. Now that I've done so, I can assure you that fennel is both delicious and versatile—crunchy and subtly anise-flavored when raw, and tender and deeply sweet when roasted.
Whether you're already a fan of the stuff or need a slow introduction, we've got 23 fennel recipes for you to try, from fall-themed salads brightened up with citrus or made hearty with grains to rich pasta dishes, slow-cooked pork, and more. And if you need guidance on how to prepare your fennel bulb (and the stalks and fronds!), check out our instructions on how to cut fennel first.
Pasta Dishes With Fennel
The combination of ingredients that goes into this Sicilian pasta dish—filleted whole sardines, anchovy, fennel, pine nuts, golden raisins, and a hint of saffron—seems incredibly unlikely, yet it works, producing long strands of bucatini or spaghetti coated in a fragrant, flavorful sauce. To get more of their flavor into the sauce, we steep the raisins and saffron in warmed white wine before adding the wine to the pan to deglaze. A combination of diced fennel bulb, fennel fronds, and fennel seed furnishes layers of fennel flavor, replicating the intensity of the wild fennel traditionally used in this dish.
If the creamy Swiss chard gratin below is for the fennel skeptics, this pasta is for the true believers. Adding fennel pollen cranks the flavor of fresh fennel bulb up to 11. If you've never tried cooking with it, this simple dish of spaghetti tossed with orange zest, garlic, and mint is a nice introduction, but do be careful—just a teaspoon of fennel pollen is enough for a full pound of spaghetti.
Inspired by Sicilian cuisine, which frequently stars both swordfish and fennel, this dish combines pasta with a sauce of cherry tomatoes, mint, chopped fennel, and tender pieces of swordfish. A bread crumb topping is another common feature of Sicilian cooking; we follow that tradition by finishing this dish with a crunchy mix of toasted bread crumbs, almonds, and fennel seeds. For another Sicilian swordfish pasta, one that pairs the fish with eggplant and tomatoes, try our recipe for rigatoni con pesce spada.
This green, spring-y pasta is as visually appealing as it is delicious. The sauce is inspired by French soubise, a purée of cooked onions and cream. In this version, we use a mixture of spring onions and fennel to give the pasta sauce a subtle sweetness. Bacon and a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano add depth and richness to the sauce, for a pasta that's good enough for a special occasion.
Pork, Chicken, Seafood, and Other Main Dishes With Fennel
When you want a heart- and soul-warming stewed meal, but don't have the time to babysit the oven, slow-cooking can be a great option. Before you leave for work in the morning, throw a pork shoulder and a few other ingredients into your slow cooker (or a multi-cooker, such as an Instant Pot, that has a slow-cooker function—we prefer the added versatility of multi-cookers and pressure cookers), and when you come home, you'll be greeted with tender meat coated in an aromatic sauce. Here, the pork is cooked with sautéed fennel and onions, crushed tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, and white wine. Shred with two forks, mound on top of cooked pasta, and sprinkle with Parmesan for a filling dinner.
The subtle licorice flavor of fennel is highlighted in this stir-fry when paired with celery root, which has its own mild anise notes. We add celery matchsticks and slices of sweet dried Chinese sausage, too, and flavor the dish with nam phrik pao (Thai roast-chili jam) and lots of garlic.
When you know the best way to roast a chicken, you don't need to flavor it with much more than salt and pepper—but a balanced spice rub will add warm, complex flavor to make it even better. This recipe uses a rub made with fennel and coriander seed, peppercorns, cinnamon, salt, cayenne pepper, allspice, and ancho chili powder. Serve with roasted red potatoes, roasted lemon halves, and a simple white wine pan sauce.
Though bouillabaisse is traditionally made with seafood, the tomatoes, saffron, and fennel that typically flavor the stew work just as well with chicken. Serve the dish with a stack of crusty bread slices and our quick version of rouille, made by mixing grated garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and cayenne into store-bought mayo. It's wonderful dolloped into the stew as a garnish, or slathered on top of bread.
Thick, comforting, and unbelievably easy, this is a stew recipe you'll want to turn to when the weather turns chilly and you need warming-up fast. You can shuck your own oysters if you want, but if you opt for the convenience of a tub of quality pre-shucked ones, the flavor of the dish won't really suffer for it. Putting it together is simple: Gently sauté diced aromatic vegetables, including fennel, celery, shallot, garlic, and herbs, in butter before adding whole milk to simmer, then slide in the oysters and their liquor.
Despite what you may have been served in restaurants, traditional bouillabaisse isn't primarily a shellfish stew; it's a fish stew before anything else, with the shellfish remaining very much optional. That said, this recipe allows you to customize the fish with whatever's most accessible at your local markets, though we do suggest using a good variety of delicate, firm, lean, and oily specimens if possible—and sure, throw in some mussels and crab, too, if you want. Fennel, orange zest, and a pinch of saffron, plus fennel seed and Pernod or pastis if you've got it, provide an aromatic combination that keeps this bouillabaisse true to the dish's Provençal origins.
Everyone should be cooking mussels at home more often—they're easy, tasty, and fast, and they can be customized by adding whatever flavors you like to the broth. In this version, we emphasize anise flavor by incorporating diced fennel, a little pastis or Pernod, and fennel sausage (though any hard, dry-cured sausage will work if you can't find a fennel variety). Serve this alongside a loaf of rustic bread for mopping up the flavorful broth.
If you love the idea of salmon burgers, but find store-bought frozen patties disappointing, this recipe is for you. By hand-chopping the fish and incorporating no breading or other binder—a coating of panko bread crumbs on the outside only is enough to keep the burgers intact and form a crispy crust when they're cooked—we deliver burgers with plenty of unadulterated salmon flavor. A crunchy topping of fennel, radicchio, and celery slaw, plus a layer of homemade rémoulade, complements the burgers nicely.
Vegetarian Fennel Dishes
It's not uncommon for me to spread mashed avocado onto bread, sprinkle on coarse salt, and call it breakfast. And a fine breakfast it is—but think of all the possibilities I'm missing out on by skipping the toppings! If you feel like changing things up, try any one of our avocado toast variations, including this one, topped with thin slices of fennel, citrus suprèmes, and fresh mint leaves. Our step-by-step instructions on cutting citrus fruit into suprèmes make the process a breeze.
Much like fennel, beets are widely disliked, which isn't too hard to understand when you recognize that so many people know beets only in their bland, boiled state. Roasting beets, on the other hand, brings out their sweetness and concentrates their earthy flavor. This vegetarian sandwich pairs roasted beets with tangy goat cheese and spicy ginger; blanched beet greens and crisp sliced fennel make a fresh salad to top off the sandwich.
Fennel Salads, Side Dishes, and More
The very beginning of fennel season overlaps with the tail end of summer, so you may still have access to sweet yellow summer squash. That's lucky, because these two vegetables are a wonderful pair. For this fresh-tasting salad, we slice crisp raw squash and fennel thinly using a mandoline, then dress them simply with olive oil, lemon juice, and dill, finishing with creamy goat cheese.
Fennel season peaks in the colder months, which is why you'll typically see fennel paired with other fall and winter produce. In this salad, along with the anise flavor of shaved fennel, we use a blend of bitter winter greens, like radicchio, endive, and escarole, and sweet-tart citrus fruit, like grapefruit, pomelo, and tangerines. Before incorporating the fruit, we cut it into suprèmes and set the pieces in a strainer over a bowl, reserving the drained juices to whisk with mayonnaise, olive oil, and honey to form a creamy vinaigrette.
This easy salad of minimal ingredients is also perked up by the inclusion of citrus fruit—it's a great, bright addition to salads when warm-weather produce becomes scarce (or sub-optimal) in the winter. Crunchy thin-sliced fennel and bitter radicchio are dressed in a vinaigrette of tangerine juice and fennel seed. Because the tangerine juice isn't quite acidic enough to replace the vinegar of a typical vinaigrette, we add an equal quantity of lemon juice, too.
It's woefully underappreciated, but poaching is one of the best ways to produce a well-cooked, moist, and flavorful piece of salmon, and it's our preparation method of choice when we want to flake the fish into a salad like this one. Filling enough to serve as a main dish, this straightforward salad combines flakes of tender salmon, diced fennel, peppery arugula, and plump cranberry beans.
Roasting is one of the most reliably delicious ways to prepare fennel, leaving it incredibly sweet and soft, with crisp, caramelized edges. This hearty salad combines roasted fennel with warm whole grains—farro, spelt, and rye berries are all good choices. A few handfuls of spicy arugula lighten the salad up just a bit, even as salty prosciutto and pecorino cheese enrich it.
When you need to throw together a quick lunch, Puy lentils are a lifesaver—you can even eat them straight out of the can, but you'll thank yourself if you take the small amount of time needed to whip up this fall-appropriate, Provençal-inspired salad. We mix the lentils with diced apple, fennel, and plum tomatoes, then toss the ingredients in a tangy cider vinaigrette. Chopped basil and thyme make a fresh finishing touch.
If you're on the fence about fennel, this casserole is a good way to ease yourself into it. Here, we cook the fennel down until it's meltingly tender, then add Swiss chard, white beans, and plenty of half-and-half and grated cheese—the fennel flavor is present, but restrained. A dash of freshly grated nutmeg leaves the gratin with a warm, aromatic note.
The best-known version of pesto, of course, is made with basil and pine nuts, but there are numerous variations on the classic sauce. This unusual one replaces the pungent basil with roasted fennel bulb and raw fennel fronds, while swapping the pine nuts out for toasted almonds. Add plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, and kosher salt to taste, then pulse with a blender or food processor until puréed. Try it with pasta, fresh bread, raw or roasted vegetables, grilled fish, and more.
Fennel is usually associated with savory dishes, but here its anise notes help add depth and offset the sweetness in a spring-y fruit compote. A classic combination of strawberry and rhubarb cooks with sugar and fennel seed on the stovetop until it's softened up into a versatile topping for pancakes or waffles. Use a little less sugar if you want a fruity accompaniment to grilled pork chops, or a little more to make the compote more dessert-appropriate.
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