21/07/2012 16:00

There are two types of fennel, one is grown for the seeds, and the other used as a vegetable.

Florence fennel, Finocchio or Sweet Fennel, is from the same family as the herb and seed of the same name. Florence Fennel is grown for it's white bulb. It has a bulbous base, stalks like celery, and feathery leaves that resemble Queen Anne's lace. Fennel tastes like liquorice or anise. The crisp and slightly sweet bulb is nice served raw in salads. Fennel is wonderful braised, roasted, grilled, sautéed. or used in soups and stews. The feathery fronds can be used as an herb like dill to flavour soups and stews or used as a garnish.

A quick and easy supper.
Serves 4

Heat the oven to Gas 6/ 200C
Pull off any tough outer leaves from 4 fennel bulbs and cut into quarters. Cook in boiling water for 5 minutes until just tender, drain thoroughly. Arrange in a buttered gratin dish, season and sprinkle over a little freshly grated nutmeg and 60g grated parmesan. Pour over 284ml double cream and bake for 20 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Grill a few rashers of streaky bacon and crumble over the gratin. Serve with crusty bread.

Fennel - Foeniculum Vulgare, is a tall, leggy, aromatic perennial of the parsley family. Fennel is native to Europe, but is now grown all over the world as a food, spice and a medicinal plant. It has a long history of use dating back to ancient Greeks and Romans.

Fennel seeds and leaves can be used for culinary purposes. I love the taste of fennel, all parts of the feathery herb have a 'aniseed' flavour. I even use fennel toothpaste to brush my toothy pegs:)

The flowers are yellow and it has soft green feathery foliage, and can easily be mistaken for Dill. Its wise to avoid planting dill and fennel near each other to prevent cross fertilization.

Fennel has a great affinity with fish, especially oily fish like mackerel, herring and salmon. Dry stems of fennel are great burned on the barbecue when grilling your fish, this gives a unique and wonderful flavour to the food.

The leaves may be chopped and used in soups, with fish or added to salads. The seeds may be used in pickles, tomato sauces. Ground fennel is used in many curry powders and also in the Chinese five spice powder. Crushed seeds can be used in sweet and savoury baking-.breads cakes and biscuits. Fennel tea is quite nice as well.

A little history...

Fennel was believed to be total cure and to make people young,strong and healthy. The American poet Longfellow mentions fennel in his poem, The Goblet of Life;

Above the lowly plants it towers,
The fennel with its yellow flowers,
And in an earlier age than ours.
Was gifted with the wondrous powers,
Lost vision to restore.

It gave new strength,and fearless mood;
And gladiators, fierce and rude,
Mingled it in their daily food;
And he who battled and subdued,
A wreath of fennel wore.