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Fennel (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

The daffodils are blooming, fields are taking on a green hue, and my shoulders are warmed by the sun, even though cool breezes brush my skin. Spring is here, there’s no denying it. This week at la Domestique, we open up the spring pantry. It’s an exciting time. The kitchen cupboards are full of bright, fresh ingredients for cooking lighter fare. Gone are the hearty stews and rich casseroles. Now is a time for salads, light soups, crudités, delicate fish, pasta, and cooking outside on the grill. Spring is not an aggressively flavored season, it’s about nuance- the mild flavor of fresh chives growing wild in the meadow, sweet and dainty pea shoots, tender lettuces and fresh garlic. If summer is obscenely bountiful, spring is a series of small celebrations: finding asparagus at market, the thrill of short-seasoned purple sprouting broccoli, that first radish pulled from the soil. We want fresh veg so badly we can almost taste it, but mother nature makes us wait until it’s time, dolling out the occasional reward for our patience. The first ingredient of the spring pantry is just what we need right now- something green, fresh, and herbal: fennel.

A pristine white bulb with long, green stems and perky, feathery fronds is quite the beauty to behold. Like a siren to a sailor, once it’s caught my eye there is no turning back. I must touch it, admiring the grandeur of such a fine-looking vegetable, and inhaling the anise perfume. Fennel is an awkward vegetable to store in the fridge. It won’t fit into your vegetable crisper and quickly turns soft and shriveled unprotected in the dry chill of a refrigerator shelf. I find the best way to keep it at home is to cut off the stems an inch or two above the bulb, then pack it all into a gallon-sized zip locked bag and put the bag in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Some sources may say fennel will keep 5 days in the fridge, but I try to use it within two days as it just doesn’t keep well.

Bulb fennel is called Florence fennel, and you’ll find the size varies from small, flat bulbs to large, round ones. According to The Produce Bible, the smaller bulbs are mild in flavor and good for eating raw in salads or crudités. Larger bulbs have a more aggressive anise flavor that is tamed by the heat of roasting, braising, or grilling. It’s important to trim the bulbs of any tough outer layers and the rock-hard core. The white flesh of fennel oxidizes rapidly when cut, turning brown. Either use it immediately or place slices in a bowl of acidulated water in the fridge for several hours until ready to cook. Green fennel fronds are used in cooking just like dill, to add herbal flavor to salads and dressings or garnish fish, soup, and pastas. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday, and you’ll find plenty of creative ideas for cooking with fennel during it’s peak season- spring. Keep a foraging eye out for wild fennel as well, an invasive (but tasty) weed with an even stronger flavor, more fronds and stalks- no bulb. Reading Chez Panisse Vegetables I learned that the tiny yellow fennel flowers are also edible (so pretty in a salad).

This week at la Domestique we celebrate spring with fennel. I’m feeling renewed and inspired, looking forward to cooking in the moment with you. LaDomestique.com is getting a spring makeover soon, and I’ve got some exciting projects I can’t wait to share with you. It’s a time of growth and renewal. Happy spring!

Do you cook with fennel? Share your impression of this grand vegetable in the comments section. Click Here.