Monday, November 2, 2009

Fun With Fennel

Over the last couple of years, I have found that fennel is something that is so easy to use and has many uses. I was afraid to try it, use looked odd...what could you do with this weird looking root? So, I left it alone. Until one day I found a recipe for a fennel and apple salad. I tried it and I was hooked. Which led me on my quest for other ways to use this fragrant and mild tasting....what...vegetable?

Well, it is found in the vegetable bin in the produce aisle, but fennel is actually an herb AND a spice! It is related to parsley and resembles dill! It is a native to the Mediterranean and introduced throughout Europe by way of Italy. All plant parts are edible: roots, stalks and leaves, with the spice coming from the dried seeds. The vitamin C found in fennel bulb is directly antimicrobial and Vitamin C is needed for the proper function of the immune system. It is a good source of fiber, a very good source of folate which is a B vitamin and a very good source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower high blood pressure. Fennel's aromatic taste is unique, reminiscent of licorice and anise. Fennel's texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy and ribbed texture.

The French, Italians and English use fennel as an herb to season fish. In Italy fennel is also used to season pork roasts and spicy sausages (think salami). The seeds can season breads (like rye) and cakes and it is also used in Chinese five spice powder.

So why do YOU need to know this?? Because I am going to post a few of my favorite fennel recipes over the next few weeks to show you its versatility and hope that if you haven't tried this before, you will!

To start, I am posting a hot dip that is perfect for the holidays. You can have this done in less than half an hour, start to finish. Or make it up a day ahead of time and pop it in the oven for 10-15 minutes before your guests are scheduled to arrive. If you love the hot artchoke dip, this is a new alternative! Bob Apetit!


· 4 slices bacon
· 3 medium fennel bulbs* (8 oz. each)
· 2 cloves garlic, minced
· 1 8-ounce jar mayonnaise
· 1 8-ounce carton dairy sour cream
· 1 4-ounce package crumbled blue cheese
· 20 dried whole black or pink peppercorns, crushed (an easy way to do this is to put them in a little zip lock bag and pound them with a meat mallet), finely shredded Parmesan cheese (about 2 tablespoons), fine dry bread crumbs (about 2 tablespoons, Radishes and/or Belgian endive leaves

1. Preheat oven to 400 degree F. In a skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon. Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in skillet. Crumble bacon; set aside.
2. To prepare fennel, cut off and discard upper stalks of fennel. Remove any wilted outer layers and cut a thin slice from the fennel base. Wash fennel and cut in half lengthwise; remove core. Cut crosswise into very thin slices.
3. Add fennel and garlic to drippings in skillet. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes until fennel is just tender and begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add mayonnaise, sour cream, blue cheese, bacon, and peppercorns to fennel; mix well. Divide mixture between two 16-ounce oven-proof crocks, souffle dishes, or other oven-proof dishes. In a small bowl combine Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs; top mixture in each crock with Parmesan mixture.
4. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes, or until just heated through and tops are light brown. Do not overbake. Serve with radishes and/or Belgian endive leaves. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


  1. This dip looks so good, especially as the weather gets colder!

  2. I am so excited to learn more about fennel. I've only used the dry seeds in making pizza sauce (an absolute must in my opinion) but have NEVER eaten it fresh, because I never knew how.

    Thanks, too, for all the health info on this. That goes a long way in encouraging me to try this unusual spice/herb.

  3. Linda... Fennel is one of those root vegetables that don't get used as often as they should. Not only for they nutritional valve, but they distinct flavor. Your dip sounds like a winner! Thanks

  4. This dip sounds fabulous! We are fans of fennel and will give this a try.

  5. I love fennel. I actually grow the herb fennel (it doesn't produce the bulb like the other) and use the fronds and the seeds.

  6. Over the last couple of years, I have really discovered fennel. What a lovely herb and vegetable. This dip, looks really good. I am thinking I will need to make this recipe too.


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