Fennel Advice Needed!!!!
OK, so I have a silly question....I am a complete fennel novice but thought I would try something new so I bought and planted fennel this past spring. Of course, I no longer have the little plant stake telling me the exact variety. And I've been waiting and waiting for it to produce those lovely fennel bulb things that one finds in the grocery store. No luck - beautiful feathery leaves and dill-type flowers but no bulb. I've pretty much determined that I have the herb fennel type vs. the vegetable fennel, so the question now is: how to use it? I've searched recipes online and while some call for fennel seed, and snipped fennel, others call for fennel stalks and bulb. Obviously, I don't have a bulb, but can I use the stalks? Any tried and true uses for this herb? It smells and tastes great, but since I was expecting a bulb, I'm at a loss. Usually I'm an adventurous cook and gardener but this one stumps me!! Any suggestions, recipes, etc would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
I only buy the bulb variety, so someone else will have to say whether the following would work, using the herb variety.
I save the stalks after serving the bulb in various vegetable preps.
I use the stalks:
--very thinly (VERY thinly) sliced to add to salads;
--again, thinly sliced, as an aromatic to replace celery in the trinity. (I always have onions and carrots on-hand, but don't always have celery);
--sliced thinly to add to chicken or turkey salad, etc.
I used de-string the stalks, as I do celery.
Yes, there are indeed different varieties. You can use the fronds (the stalks of the herb type are rather woody and tasteless) but you cannot substitute them for fennel bulbs. The fronds do not have as strong a licorice taste as the bulbs. Good in soups and sauces ( I like the idea of mussels with fennel fronds). The fronds are also an excellent addition to pickling brine if you're into that.
If you decide to try again next year, what you want is Florence fennel.
Fennel is very finicky in the garden. last year I planted from seed in the garden and had the same problem as you. Fennel tends to bolt if the roots get disturbed at all in the ground, which is why you got stems and flowers but no bulbs - the plant put all of its energy upward instead of into the bulb. This year I started my fennel in bidegradeable pots that we transplanted directly into the garden in, and 75% of the plants formed the bulbs. they won't be white like in the store unless you bury them in dirt as they grow, but they are still bulbs.
As for using what you do have, I agree that you can use the stalks. The lower, tender parts, if thinly sliced, would be good sauteed with other vegetables. I find that they can still be slightly tough raw - that's why you need to stay thin and stick to the lower parts. Also don't neglect the fronds - they make a great addition to salads, are really good chopped on fish, and I also use them in poaching liquid for fish. Although a different flavor profile, you can use them the same way you use chopped dill or parsley in a dish to add an herbal, fresh flavor to a salad, sauce, or on meat. Try in a potato salad instead of dill, or with chopped tomatoes, peaches or watermellon. Just use small amounts first to make sure that the flavor doesn't overwhelm, then add more as needed.
I grow both the bronze and green leaved fennel, mainly as decorative plants dotted about in my "hot colours" flower beds, but I also use the leaves for cooking. Never used the actual stalks but I think you could probably use them to sit a pork joint on for roasting, or some whole fish.
I don't grow dill so tend to use fennel instead. Somewhat of a different taste but not a million miles away. A particular favourite use is as part of marinade for prawns, with oil, lemon juice and spring onions. I bring everything slowly up to just before it comes to a simmer and take off the heat. Then into the fridge for a salad next evening. The prawns get drained, mixed with mayo and a good shake of tabasco. They then sit on a bed of lettuce (one of the rare times I use iceberg) and are scattered with peeled and chopped tomato, chopped black olives and more spring onions.
Delia Smith recipe apart from the fennel substitution (from her "One is Fun" book).
Fennel is also the main herb used in a Mallorcan "frit de matances" - goes really well with the liver.
Had a lovely mussel dish for lunch today at a local restaurant. The mussel broth had very thinly sliced small fennel stalks in it -- delicious. I'd think you could also cook them with sauteed onion and garlic, some chicken stock, an Idaho potato, then puree. Maybe add a little cream. Yummy soup.