When I think fennel, I think Italian for two reasons – a close family friend who is Italian always served it raw with drizzled olive oil and sea salt and cracked pepper at family meals AND because fennel is an integral ingredient in many Italian dishes. In fact, Florence fennel or finocchio is a selection with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable – the fennel that any of us are used to seeing.
Italians blend fennel into sausages & sauces throughout the country. It is also frequently served pinzimonio (raw) and as I described above.
Some home/traditional suggestions to use your fennel:
Elisabetta’s grandmother quarters 3-4 bulbs of fennel, cubes an equivalent volume of potatoes, and boils them with a teaspoon or two of fennel seeds in a little lightly salted water until fork tender. She then drains them, stirs in a quarter of a pound of shredded fontina cheese and the leafy fronds from the fennel bulbs (washed, patted dry and minced), covers the pot to give the cheese time to melt, and serves them as a side dish. Home cooking, and quite nice with meatballs, lesso rifatto (recooked boiled meat, a delicacy in its own right), or a light stew.
Fabia instead writes”I make it braised with leeks. Slice fennel, slice leeks (in circles), sauté them in olive oil for a few minutes, and add some chicken broth, salt and pepper. Sauté on medium high heat until most of the liquid is gone. Try not to over cook. Most of the time I don’t cook from recipes so I don’t have the exact measurements.”
Fennel is laced with a wonderfully sweet flavor – not the sharp anise that many people assume. Try it raw or braised or stewed … we have plenty of ideas for you!