Hi there, it’s Naz here again. I am writing about fennel this month. It’s strange how certain smells/flavours/sounds bring back memories of a place. Fennel reminds me of Indian restaurants as most of them offer dry roasted fennel as a digestive after meals. I often use it in some of my vegetable dishes as it adds a certain flavour and aroma to the dish.
‘F’ is for Fennel
The Latin name for fennel is foeniculum which means ‘little hay’ and most likely refers to the aroma that fennel generates. It is often confused with anise as in many languages the name for anise is synonymous with fennel. The seed is oval in shape and green or yellowish brown in colour and is the dried fruit of foeniculum vulgare which is a member of the parsley family.
There are various types of fennel; foeniculum vulgare grows wild around Northern California and a similar bronze coloured variety called the foeniculum vulgare rubrum can be found in nurseries. A third variety called the foeniculum vulgare dulce or foeniculum vulgare azoricum is known for its sweetness and the one that produces a bulb that is often used in cooking. It is interesting to note that the bulb is merely a swelling that occurs at the base of the stalk but is stilled called a bulb.
In terms of flavour, fennel has an anise like flavour but is more aromatic, sweeter and less pungent. Most, if not all of the fennel plant can be eaten. The leaves and stalks can be eaten as a vegetable or the leaves can be chopped and added to a dish at the last moment to provide flavour. Fennel can be used in salads, dressings, dips and sauces and added to other herbs to add a zing to the taste. The bulb can be eaten raw or lightly cooked in salads and stews. If a stronger flavour is required in a dish, the seeds can be used. These seeds are most frequently used to spice up sausages, pickles, red meat as well as fish dishes.
Fennel grows best in the heat although the soil should be moist. It can however, thrive in dry soils too. It requires very little water once established and can grow up to 7ft tall. The best time to plant fennel is in early spring or fall. It takes about 2.5-3 months for the stems to reach their full size and then the seeds take a further few weeks to form. One important factor is that fennel, like mint should not be grown too close to other plants as it inhibits their growth. This is because it cross-pollinates with them and the output is useless. It is therefore, best grown away from the herb garden with lots of space around it.
The plant will be ready when the seeds start to turn brown and it is at this point that the plant needs to be cut. It should then be hung to dry over a cloth and once completely dry thrashed so as to release the seeds. The seeds should then be stored and used as and when required.
Interesting facts about fennel:
· The Romans believed that the young shoots, when consumed, would control obesity. This could be partly true as there is a belief that the seeds are known to be appetite suppressants.
· During Medieval times, fennel was one of the nine sacred herbs that were used to treat disease. There was also a belief that fennel fought off evil spirits, hence the herb was used to jam keyholes and hung on doorways on Midsummer’s Eve.
· Charlemagne believed that fennel possessed healing properties and was used as a colic suppressant, breath freshener and mild digestive aid.
Leek, Celery, Fennel and Potato Soup Recipe
6 cups water 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely
1 medium onion, chopped finely 2 potatoes, diced into small cubes 3 leeks, thinly sliced 3 celery sticks, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1. Lightly sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil.
2. Add the potatoes, leeks, celery and fennel to the pan and toss
3. Add the water and bring to boil
4. Once boiled, simmer for a good 35-40 minutes. Alternatively use a pressure cooker to speed up the process.