Sunday, 31 August 2014

Finocchio? I tell no lies ......

Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel seed
Honest? ... fennel delights me in so many ways. It is such a giving herb and vegetable and its sweet anise flavours lend it to so many dishes by way of its root, bulb, stem, feathery leaves and seeds. Belonging to the same family as celery I find it quite capable of taking on similar roles in salads, stews and other culinary efforts as well as having application as a medicinal, a spice and a sweet. Let us explore this charming garden plant with such a wealth of bounty.

Indigenous to the Mediterranean it is no surprise it enjoys temperate growing zones, but has been found naturalised in most climates excluding desert habitats and considered to be an invasive species in Australia due to its adaptive ability.

In wide use throughout many culinary, herbal and cultural traditions, it is a good idea to look at fennel with new eyes whilst delving into these many referenced uses and applications.

In China the fennel seed and roots are used in Chinese herbal medicine as part of the group of herbs that warm the interior and expel cold. Fennel is partnered with star anise and tangerine peal as a flavour base for braised meat dishes as well as other cooking styles for pork, lamb, fish, duck as well as in soups. 5 spice powder is a spice mixture of five spices including fennel seed, used primarily in Chinese cuisine but also used in other Asian and Arabic cookery.

Fennel seed in a roasted spice mix with dill,coriander, mustard and nasturtium pods
Fennel seeds are widely used in Indian cuisine to flavor and a tempering agent in curries, chutney and pickles. Known as Saunf is an essential ingredient in the making of Rogan Josh, a Kashmiri meat delicacy.  It is an essential spice in the making of Thandai, a North Indian summer cooler. Fennel seeds play a major role in Ayurveda for gas, stomach and respiratory related problems as well as an appetiser, carminative/purgative, an anti-spasmodic, an anti-emetic and an hepatic herb. Panch phoron is a 5 spice blend of whole seeds used in Bengali cuisine as distinct from the powder used elsewhere in Asian traditions. Fennel leaves are used in some parts of India as leafy green vegetables either by themselves or mixed with other vegetables, cooked to be served and consumed as part of a meal.

In Middle Eastern cooking the bulbs and stalks may be cooked a variety of ways or used raw in salads. The leaves are used both fresh and dry, while the seeds are added to meat dishes, breads and other foods to impart a mild licorice flavor. It is known to aid in digestion, freshen the breath, as a diuretic and as treatment for sore eyes and poor eyesight.

Young fennel plant
Fennel is very popular in Italian and French cooking and is the essential ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes using the fronds (the feathery part), stalks and bulbs. Fennel is used cooked or raw.  Once cooked it is enjoyed for its mild and sweet flavour. Served raw sliced on a crudités platter instead of celery or in a salad. The Italians enjoy fennel simply served on its own with salt and a bowl of fine olive oil for dipping into. Fennel seeds are the primary flavor component in Italian sausages and the dried leaves to flavour egg, fish dishes and risotto.

The Spanish use the stems of the fennel plant  in the preparation of pickled eggplants, berenjenas de Almagro.

Something that has graced my culinary scope more recently is the use of fennel pollen. Fennel pollen can be used in just about anything, including desserts. Use as a dry rub on meats, poultry and seafood before roasting, sautéing or grilling. Sprinkle into rice, pasta or grain dishes - use it in sauces, and on potatoes or steamed vegetables.


Nutritionally fennel is a power house. The bulb is very low in Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Niacin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

fennel flower for pollen
Fennel seed is low in Sodium, and very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium and Manganese.

There is little to no nutritional information in regard to fennel pollen or roots. What I could find was the pollen had NO nutritional value which is to me a tad ridiculous, but I have found the young roots to be quite delicious.

Historical Fennel

In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the demigods

Pliny (AD 23-79), the Roman author of The Naturalis Historie believed that serpents ate and rubbed against fennel because it was able to improve their eyesight after shedding their skins. Following that observation, Pliny believed fennel was so powerful that he used the aromatic herb to treat 22 different ailments.

Hippocrates suggested fennel could aid wet nurses to increase their milk supply.

As Old English finule, fennel is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century Lacnunga manuscript. The charm is intended for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs.

Fennel was a staple in the household of King Edward I of England and during medieval times, evil spirits were thought to roam freely as the sun turned southwards. Fennel, when hung over doorways, was thought to protect those within from the spirits. Fennel seeds inserted into keyholes were thought to protect a dwelling from ghosts on any night but particularly Midsummer’s Eve.


Sow your seeds straight out into the garden in the late spring after the frost threat has passed in a position you are happy to have dedicated to it's growth as the roots will reshoot each year. Loosen your soil and add compost generously with some sand for drainage if heavy clay soil is evident
Fennel sprouting

Cover the seeds lightly with seed raising mix or light soil to about 2 mm and water frequently until the first leaves are evident. A good plant spacing is about 20 cm. Keep a good distance from dill or coriander to reduce cross pollination

When the bulb of the fennel plant starts to develop hill up the soil around it so that the sun doesn’t turn it green and keeps it white and sweeter tasting. This is called “blanching".

Once the bulbs are growing, water your fennel frequently so they don’t dry out. That’s if your intention is to harvest the bulb. If you are just after the seeds, then it is less important. Dry weather will encourage the plant to go to seed. This will ruin the bulb but is necessary for a seed harvest.

Give your fennel patch a fertilizer feeding each year in the spring with a generous addition of fresh compost.

NOTE: Be careful when foraging that actual fennel is collected. Dog fennel, an annual of similar appearance, is regarded as toxic to dogs, cats, horses, and guinea pigs. Clinical signs include contact dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, allergic reactions. Long term use can lead to bleeding tendencies. The scent of dog fennel is considered to be unpleasant.



Creamy Cauliflower & fennel Soup

1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large brown onion (diced)
1 bulb of fennel (sliced)
2 cloves of garlic ( crushed)
1 large cauliflower (cut into florets)
375mls of vegetable stock
Water if needed
1 cup of cream
salt and pepper.
Large handful of chopped dill or parsley or both.

Lightly toast the fennel seeds in a dry saucepan until aromatic then mill or process to a powder in a mortar

Add olive oil to the saucepan and fry the onions, sliced fennel and the garlic until onions are translucent.

Add chopped fennel seeds, cauliflower and the stock, and water if needed to just cover the ingredients, put on the lid and simmer until cauliflower and fennel are tender.

Blend the soup into a lovely creamy texture.

Add cream and dill, parsley, salt and pepper and serve.

Pumpkin and Fennel Soup

Pumpkin and Fennel Soup

2 cups butternut squash, cubed
2 cups Jap pumpkin, cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 bulbs fennel, finely spiced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 leek, white end finely sliced
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups beef broth, home made is possible
sour cream to serve
baby fennel frond chopped to serve

Saute the fennel, garlic and garlic in the oil and butter until translucent. Add the pumpkin cubes and saute until the pumpkin browns slighty, deglaze with the wine and add the stock and allow to simmer until the pumpkin is tender. Blend down to a smooth texture.

Chicken and Fennel Casserole

baby fennel

1 tbsp olive oil
8 chicken legs
1 leek, finely sliced
2 tablespoons spelt flour
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil, additional
8 whole baby fennel including roots, sliced
or 2 large fennel bulbs, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
sprig oregano, leaves finely sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
handful baby spinach, finely sliced
300 ml cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Baby fennel roots add a gentle
anise and parsnip flavour

Baby Fennel

Place the flour in a freezer bag with the chicken and shake to lightly coat the legs. Pleace the chicken in a lightly oiled oven dish and bake until lightly browened turning and basting with the pan juices half way.

In a large pan saute the leek, fennel, garlic and oregano in the oil and butter until the leek wilts. Add the baked legs and deglaze the roasting pan with the wine and pour the resulting mixture into the pan and add the stock.

Simmer until chicken is cooked through and threatening to fall off the bone. Add the spinach and cream and season and allow a low heat to wilt the spinach and the cream to form the sauce.

Serve with rice and a  fresh fennel frond.

Chicken and Fennel Casserole


Ouzo flavoured Spirit

Ouzo flavoured vodka

2 larges heads of fresh green fennel seeds
2 cups of drinkable Vodka

Lightly bruise the fennel seeds to release the sweet anise flavours and oils.
Place into a sterilised preserving bottle and top up with vodka.
Seal tightly and store in a dark cupbourd for at least four weeks.


1/4 cabbage, finely sliced
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
1 carrot, grated
4 radish, grated
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely sliced
small handful baby spinach finely sliced
4 tbsp duck egg aioli
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
nasturtium petals to garnish

Mix all the salad vegetables together.
Add the lemon juice to the aioli to thin it down and stir it through, season and garnish just before serving.

Fennel pollen fritter

Fennel Pollen Fritters

12 fennel flower heads and/or green seed heads
1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 Free range egg
1/2 cup apple cider
Oil, for frying

Trim the fennel flowers from their stalks.
Place the flour in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and break in the egg. Add the cider and whisk till combined.
Heat the oil till very hot. I prefer to wait till it’s about 200oC.
Mix the batter again and dip in a fennel flower or seed head, moving it around in the batter to ensure it is well coated. Lift the flower up, allowing most of the drops of batter to fall back into the bowl, then quickly transfer it to the hot oil, flowers down (stalk up). Hold it under the bubbling oil with the stalk. Leave it tin the oil till crisp and golden. Transfer to a wire rack and repeat with remaining flowers.
Arrange the flowers on a serving tray and eat immediately.
Use your teeth the strip the pollen from the stems.
Duck egg aioli would be a perfect accompaniment.


  1. I love fennel but had no idea how good it was for you.Then there's the other benefits...stealing fire and improving eyesight.:). I love that you included recipes in this post. I'm going to try the chicken and fennel casserole.

    1. it is one of my favourites and the first I tried with fennel when I was first introduce to it.

  2. I've never been a huge fennel fan and just a little bit scared of how to cook with it. I'll have to give it another try after reading all about it though.

    1. I too was a bit scared of fennel when I was first introduce to it, but now I love it and am always trying to include it when it is abundant. Try the chicken and fennel casserole. The longer cooking allows a gentler flavour.