Italians have had a love affair with fennel (finocchio) dating back to before the 17th century, when they served it at the end of a meal sprinkled with salt (believed to aid in digestion).
Other people have a love/hate relationship with fennel — I think because it can have a strong flavor. It is sometimes confused with anise, which are similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Fun fact – fennel is also used in natural toothpastes for flavoring.
It is an odd shaped plant and is thought to be a part of the carrot family, although to me, the fronds resemble more of a celery like stalk and if comparing taste, it is similar to celery in taste – more so than a carrot I think. Back in the day, it was found around the shores of the Mediterranean area and in modern times has become widely naturalized in many parts of the world.
- Above the lower plants it towers,
The Fennel with its yellow flowers;
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers
Lost vision to restore.
Florence fennel is one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and by the late 19th century was a popular alcoholic drink. The Italian liqueur anisette was derived from it.
- 1 1/2 pounds fennel bulbs (about 2 large)
- 2 sweet oranges
- 2 scallions for garnish
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Drizzle with a flavorful balsamic vinegar (fig infused was good when I made this)
- Wash the fennel bulbs and remove any brown or stringy outer leaves.
- Slice bulbs and stems into thin pieces. Place in a shallow serving bowl.
- Peel the oranges with a sharp knife cutting away the pith.
- Chunk slices of orange and mix with the fennel.
- Mix the oil and lemon juice together.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour dressing over mixture and mix well.
- Slice the white and green parts of the scallion and sprinkle over the salad. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar if you like.
Here’s another version of a fennel salad. I found this one from Our Italian Table.
- • Zest ½ orange
- • 1 navel orange
- • 1 tablespoon butter
- • 1 tablespoon sugar
- • Extra virgin olive oil
- • 1 medium fennel bulb
- • Kosher salt
- • Freshly ground black pepper
- • Remove the peel and pith from the oranges. Slice crosswise into ½ inch rounds. Remove any seeds from the rounds if you can.
- • In a skillet large enough to hold the orange slices in a single layer, melt the butter over medium-low heat until melted and foaming. Sprinkle with the sugar. Turn the heat to medium high. Once the sugar is melted and starts to caramelize (about 3 minutes), lower the heat and add in the orange slices in a single layer. Cook until the orange slice begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side. Gently place the slices on a plate along with any juices.
- • Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise. Slice each half into ¼ slices lengthwise. Reserve any fronds for garnish.
- • Drizzle olive oil in the same skillet to coat bottom (about 1 tablespoon) over medium-high heat. Add in the fennel slices and cook until browed on each side, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- • Remove the fennel slices and layer on your serving plate. Add the orange slices on top and drizzle with any juices. Top with freshly ground black pepper, fennel fronds, orange zest and a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve!