Botanical name: Foeniculum vulgare
Fennel offers professionals in the agricultural sector a good yield in economic terms, also because in addition to family consumption in the kitchen it enters the preparation of liqueurs, medicinal products, herbal teas, food supplements, and is used also in bakeries and pastry shops. Even in a vegetable garden, however, and despite being a vegetable that requires some more care than others, those who appreciate its aroma similar to that of anise and the multiplicity of uses to which it can be used, can obtain a lot of satisfaction.
Origins and history
Always known in the Mediterranean for its particular and delicate aroma and taste, it seems that the cultivation of the variety that we commonly use now only began in the Renaissance.
Originally from the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, it is widespread throughout Europe but prefers temperate climates, even if in reality it is a plant with considerable resistance to hot climates. Charlemagne mentions it in his chapter "De villis" - a series of provisions concerning agriculture and livestock - as one of the vegetables whose cultivation is recommended as a herb and condiment.
In ancient Greece it was associated with clairvoyance, while for the Romans was the symbol of Bacchus.
Nutritional and beneficial properties of fennel
Rich in anethole, an element that gives it the characteristic aroma of anise, fennel also contains many B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium , magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and a lot of fiber, with a low quantity of calories (about 30 per 100 grams) and a very high percentage of water.
In addition to being recommended in diets with little sodium, the anethole and other essential oils make this vegetable precious for digestion, diuresis and against halitosis - seeds and herbal teas based on fennel have been known and used since ancient times for these properties.
It is also effective in treating aerophagia, to help against irritable bowel syndrome and for its digestive properties.
Use of fennel in the kitchen
All parts of the plant are edible and used. In France it is traditionally used as one of the ingredients of pastis, a milky drink to be diluted with water, with a strong aniseed aroma.
Much loved in phytotherapy for its numerous properties, used in preparations for herbal teas, while the seeds can be chewed at the end of a meal as a pleasant digestive or grind and use in powder form to flavor various dishes. Eaten both raw and cooked, it has a delicate taste that harmonizes with almost any ingredient. For example, you can simply use raw in the pinzimonio, or make it the base for a very light omelette made with egg whites only.
It is used in bouillabaisse, the typical French soup of fish and shellfish, and undoubtedly goes particularly well with fish dishes. You can make a quiche, with a base of phyllo dough on which to arrange some wedges made first wither with a little water and white wine, flavored with a few juniper berries and to which add fish fillets to parsley.
Or you can use it in a centrifuged also prepared with green apple, lime zest and ginger. Pieces of freshly sautéed fennel can create a first course with a very particular taste and fragrance, especially if used on buckwheat pasta and adding cherry tomatoes.
It belongs to the same family as the carrot, to which the plant is quite similar; the umbrella inflorescences of fennel are yellow and not white, while the white color of the so-called heart - the swelling of the foliar sheath that we consume - is due to its tucking, which must be repeated and taken care of especially when the time of harvest approaches .
The latter takes place just 3 months after sowing, allowing virtually the harvest even in the garden for most of the year, even if in reality the best months are from August to November.
Very rustic plant, it tolerates drought well and it is advisable to combine it with mint and sage to protect the cabbages from some moths. Instead, it is best to avoid growing alongside other umbellifers or tomatoes, with which it would compete for space and nutrients, while there are no problems with leeks, some types of celery and celeriac.