Fennel is a deliciously unique vegetable.
This vegetable has been used for thousands of years as an herb and as a spice. Fennel is not enjoyed as much in the United States as it is in Italy, perhaps because of the unfamiliarity of preparing it. In Italy, fennel is eaten raw, just like celery, dipped in olive oil with salt. It is also cooked in many different ways—used in soups, braised and roasted as a vegetable, or used as a base for a pasta sauce. Fennel is as easy to clean as an onion and it has a sweet licorice flavor when raw that mellows out as it’s cooked. I like to enjoy it raw and crunchy, but it’s mellow and sweet when braised. When shopping for fennel, look for crispy, compact white bulbs. I love it braised with some onions and capers, but you can also sautée, grill, steam, and bake it. Toss the fronds into a salad, or add them to soups, or use them like chopped parsley, to add color and flavor.