From spring to the onset of fall, wild fennel Ferula communis waves feathery leaves and bright yellow flowers in open fields all over Israel. The aromatic seed-like fruit are sometimes used as seasonings (read about uses for fennel seeds in Part II of our spice medicines series). Bees, as we noted in our post about the Black Bear apiary, appreciate wild fennel flowers, and honey with a wild fennel note is delicious indeed. But wild fennel doesn’t produce fat, juicy bulbs like Florence fennel.
Cultivation of Florence fennel began in the 1970s on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, pioneers of organic agriculture in Israel. Mario Levy, Director of Organic Agriculture (who Green Prophet’s founder Karin has worked beside in the fields), brought seeds back to the kibbutz from a trip to Italy. Now the faintly sweet, anise-flavored vegetable appears in Israeli markets all through winter and into spring. There are many ways to eat it, and here are three: sliced into salads, roasted to sweetness, or baked in a cheese sauce.
Roasting slightly caramelizes the fennel and reduces its anise-like flavor. Even people who don’t like anise flavor enjoy roasted fennel. And the recipe couldn’t be simpler.
Fennel Bulbs Roasted in Olive Oil
Set oven to 325 F. – 150 C.
2 large fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
sprinklings of salt and white pepper
Cut away unattractive root parts and stems. Rinse the bulbs well.
Halve each bulb horizontally and place the halves on a baking sheet protected with baking parchment.
Drizzle the olive oil over the bulbs on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the bulbs cut side down and roast for 30-40 minutes till tender.
Fennel Baked in Cream and Kashkeval Cheese
A decadently dairy way of enjoying fennel.
2 fennel bulbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cups light cream
3/4 cups sour cream
1/4 cup grated Kashkeval cheese (Parmesan is also good)
Trim, rinse, and halve the bulbs as in the roasted fennel recipe above.
Saute the halved bulbs in the olive oil for 5 minutes.
Mix the two kinds of cream in a bowl.
Place the sauteed fennel in a baking pan and pour the cream mixture over it. Spread the grated cheese over all.
Bake for 30-40 minutes till tender.
Fennel, Cheese and Arugula Salad
Ingredients for Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small clove garlic, mashed
For the Salad
2 cups arugula leaves, rinsed and dried
2 fennel bulbs, cored and sliced thinly
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup celery, sliced thinly
1/2 cup cracked walnut halves
Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.
Place the vegetables in a large bowl, in the order given.
Pour the dressing over all and mix well.
More salads on Green Prophet:
Photo of roasted fennel by Elise Bauer, Simply Recipes Blog
Photo of raw fennel bulb from Terra Organics Recipes.
Miriam Kresh also writes a food blog.