Fennel – For Looks and For Cooks

fennel

photo John Tann

I’ve grown fennel for quite a few years, partly because it is so easy to grow and partly because it is a very striking plant. It is a herbaceous perennial which dies back in winter. Provide some protection if temperatures drop below –10c. Plant your fennel so it gets maximum sun in the growing season. Be aware that it spreads easily to places you may not want. I have read one tip suggesting it should not be planted near potatoes or tomatoes as they hinder each other.

My single fennel plant is Foeniculum vulgare which I grow for its looks. It grows to over seven feet and has wonderful feathery leaves. The flowers are yellow umbilifers, very attractive to insects.

They can easily be grown from seed or from cuttings and will thrive in a wide range of climates. You can also divide the roots of an existing plant. Many gardeners grow them for their culinary uses. I let mine grow and grow and don’t cut it back unless it looks a mess. Sow the seeds early in the spring and plant successive crops if you are going to use a lot for cooking.

The feathery leaves, and seeds have a strong aniseed flavour and are used in many types of cooking., from salads to fish to Asian cooking. However is  not the same as anise, which is a different plant.

 

fennel

Fennel looks great even in winter

The fennel bulb makes a great vegetable and the best varieties for this are finoccio or Florence fennel. As the plant grows, earth up the bulbs so they keep their white colour.

You can see stacks of these in markets all over the Mediterranean to be eaten raw in salads or cooked. The possibilities for cooking are endless and include roasting, baking in cream, making soup or using the seeds for flavouring.

Bulb fennel

Bulb fennel: photo Nick Saltmarsh

Photo credit links: Nick Saltmarsh; John Tann.

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