Fabulous Fennel

100_4031 smThere’s not a lot coming out of the garden at the moment. The summer crops are pretty well finished (though we’re still scrounging the odd pepper or eggplant from the tunnel house), and the winter crops barely had a chance, with the hot dry weather we’ve had until last week. But among the few crops that are available right now is fennel.

This little-used vegetable is versatile and delicious in the kitchen, and attractive and useful in the garden. Leaves, seeds, and bulb are all edible.

Fennel grows year-round here, though the cooler months are when we appreciate it most. I plant it in both spring and autumn, but it seeds in readily, and we eat as many volunteer fennel as we do planted ones.

Fennel has a mild anise flavour that goes well with many other vegetables. When raw, the flavour is refreshing and numbing.

Raw fennel, sliced thin, makes a crisp and refreshing addition to salads. Or it can make a salad all on its own.

It can be braised and eaten as a side dish, or chopped and added to stews or casseroles. It goes particularly well with potatoes in a cheesy gratin, and makes a delightful risotto.

Fennel leaves can be added to salads and stews, even if the bulbs aren’t ready to harvest.

The ground seeds make a zesty addition to burgers, chai, and cookies, too! Or just crunch a few between your teeth after a meal to sweeten your breath.

In the garden, fennel’s big yellow flower heads attract all sorts of beneficial insects that help keep pests in check, and when the plants get too big and rangy, I can feed them to the goats, who love fennel as much as I do.