Fennel’s crunchy texture and sweet, anise flavor makes it perfect for this time of year, when we need something crisp and refreshing. It can brighten a salad when raw; once cooked, it becomes tender and satisfying. Read on for our best tips for choosing, working with, and using fresh fennel, plus a selection of our favorite recipes — you’ll be surprised how versatile this veggie can be.
Look for: Choose fresh fennel bulbs that are smooth and tightly layered with no cracks or bruises. Fat, rounded bulbs with white and pale green color will tend to be more succulent than thin or yellow ones. Avoid any with wilted leaves or dried layers. Keep bulbs in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Prep Tips: Remove the green stems and leaves, saving them to flavor or garnish other dishes such as soups or fish. Discard the outer layer of the bulb if it’s tough and cut away any discolored areas. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise and remove the base of the core if it’s thick and solid. Gently separate the layers with your hands and rinse well to remove any grit between them. Slice or cut as directed in a recipe.
Uses: Fennel bulb can be eaten raw or grilled, baked, braised or sautéed. When shaved into thin strips on a mandoline it adds a refreshing note to salads, and grilling or braising it mellows the flavor slightly. Its distinctive flavor also works beautifully in soups and sauces.
Variations: Don’t discard fennel fronds, which can be used just like fresh herbs for garnish (they’re a must in seafood stew). And the seeds from the plant are no less versatile, perfect for spice rubs on pork tenderloin or roasted salmon. You can even use them to flavor simple syrup for cocktails.
|Crottin Salad with Pears, Fennel and Currants
Here, French goat cheese pears with shaved fennel, pears and greens for a light fall salad.
|Figs and Purple Endive Salad with Currant Dressing
Grilling fennel and endive caramelizes the exterior, creating a sweet crust. Add figs, bold blue cheese and a tart currant-orange dressing, and you have a gorgeous starter for a dinner party.
|Pureed Fennel Soup
This dish from Chef Dan Barber showcases fennel’s subtle flavor. Olive oil is added when the soup is pureed, which lends nice richness — and as a result, the dish is entirely vegan.
|Roasted Carrots and Fennel
This is a memorable dish, accented by the colorful hue of the carrots and elevated by the anise essence of the fennel. A quick flambé burns off the alcohol in the Pernod and concentrates the flavor.
|Clams with White Beans, Fennel and Broccoli Rabe
Tender, sweet Manila clams take only minutes to cook. Here, they’re augmented by fresh fennel, saffron and red pepper flakes for a sophisticated dish.
|Halibut with Grapefruit, Parsley and Fennel
Fennel is a natural choice for fish and when paired with citrus, gets even better. This dish makes a stunning presentation for a special dinner.
|Fettuccine with Crab and Fennel
The anise notes of fennel are a good match for the rich, sweet flavor of crab in this dish, a tangle of creamy, flavorful egg noodles.
|Warm Lamb and Farro Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate
Tender lamb mixes with earthy farro, sweet pomegranate seeds, aromatic mint and crunchy fennel in this main-course salad.
|Pickled Fennel with Orange Zest
Bright and bracing, pickled fennel is ready to eat just a day after it is canned — pair with a little fresh goat cheese. The orange zest and juice and the mirin highlight the vegetable’s sweet anise flavor.