Growing and Cooking With Fennel

Growing and Cooking With Fennel
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There are two types of fennel, the perennial, common fennel, or Foeniculum vulgare and the annual Florence Fennel or F. vulgare azoricum. In part one of our series, we are talking about the common variety.
Common fennel does not form a bulb but the seeds are harvested for cooking, as well as the fresh leaves. It is a member of the Parsley Family and grows any where from 3-5 feet tall. The leaves are very similar to dill, as are the flowers, which bloom in the late summer and the fall. Fennel can easily be grown from seed sown directly into the soil in the early spring or the late summer for a fall crop. The soil should be well drained and in full sun with plenty of room. Try growing some in a large clay pot, thinning the seedlings as they grow to just 1 or 2 per pot. Once fennel is established it does well in drought like conditions. You can also plant seeds in the fall for germination in the spring. One warning: do not plant near beans, caraway, tomatoes, coriander or wormwood-they do not work well together.

Once your plant is about 6 inches high you can begin harvesting the young leaves, but only pick the top 2 inches, so it will continue to grow well. The leaves will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week with the stems in water, and the top covered with a loose plastic bag. Also, you can freeze the leaves in small plastic bags. The seeds should be harvested in late summer as they ripen so they don't scatter-watch carefully and remove the heads AS SOON as they turn from green to brown. The seeds can be dried by dropping the heads in a paper sack and leaving there until dry. When dried store the seed in jars in a dry, dark location for about 6 months for the best flavor.

Bronze fennel is a butterfly magnet, which is a good thing, but plan on harvesting early because once the caterpillars start munching it won't take long for it be eaten. I plan on sharing it this year so my kids can watch the caterpillars do their thing.

Cooking with fennel has many possibilities. Sprinkle the flowers in salads or use them in herbal vinegars. The leaves can used in soups, stews, salads, dips and marinades. The seeds are wonderful in breads, cookies, cakes and salad dressings, as well as sausage dishes. Like dill, fennel is the perfect herb for fish. You can use the whole stalks in a wood smoker for fish, or lay them on top of the fish while grilling. When cooking with fennel leaves add at the last minute for the best flavor.

Special Butter for Fish

You will need:

1/4 cup butter
2 tsp. lemon juice
dash of salt and pepper
2 Tbs. chopped fennel leaves

Combine all and refrigerate. Use on baked or grilled fish.

Chinese Five-Spice Powder

Mix and store in an airtight jar:

1 Tbs. black pepper
1 Tbs. ground anise
1 Tbs. ground fennel seed
1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves

Fish with Garlic and Fennel


3 pounds whole dressed fish
15 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
olive oil
fennel branches

Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper inside and out. Place the UNPEELED cloves of garlic inside the fish. In a large baking dish, lay the fennel branches, place the fish on top, and brush with olive oil. Bake for about 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven, brushing often with the olive oil.

Carrot Salad with Fennel


2 tablespoons chopped fennel leaves
3 cups grated carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Mix together the fennel and carrots. Whisk the oil, lemon and mustard together. Pour over the carrots and mix well. Cover and chill for one hour or more before serving, stirring occasionally.

Cucumbers and Fennel with Dressing


4 medium cucumbers (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon fennel seed (I used minced leaves instead)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small Onion, finely chopped 1/4 cup


1 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/4 cup finely chopped spinach
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon Fennel leaves
2 teaspoons wine or herb vinegar

Cut cucumbers lengthwise in half and remove the seeds. Cut each half lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip into pieces, about 2 inches long. Place the cucumbers in a glass or plastic bowl. Shake oil, lemon juice, fennel seed, salt and onion in tightly covered container. Pour over cucumbers. Cover and refrigerate at least 12 hours, stirring occasionally. Prepare the dressing by placing all ingredients in blender or food processor. Cover and blend on high speed, or process, until smooth. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Drain the cucumbers. Serve with dressing. 8 servings. NOTE: If you use leaves instead of seeds double or triple the amount.

Fennel and Bean Soup

This recipe is adapted from:
Portuguese Homestyle Cooking


1 1/2 cups dried white beans, such as Navy Beans, soaked overnight
1 pound smoked ham hocks
8 cups water
2 large bunches of fennel leaves
1 onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
3 tsp. black pepper
1 cup chopped cabbage
3 cups chopped potato-about 3 large potatoes
1 bunch green onions--most green removed and root end
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground pork sausage, cooked and drained

Place the ham hocks, soaked beans and water in a large pots and bring to a boil-reduce heat and simmer about 1 hour til the pork is tender and the beans can be mashed. Trim stems off fennel and chop about 2 cups of the leaves. Set aside. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf and pepper to the pot. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the fennel, cabbage, potatoes, scallions, olive oil, and browned sausage. Return the soup to a boil and simmer til vegetables are tender-about 20 minutes. NOTE: I like using Italian sausage, but you can use any type of pork sausage.

Click Here for Fennel Part II-Florence Fennel!


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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