What is Fennel? (And How to Cook It)

Welcome to fennel 101! This underrated veggie deserves a place on everyone's table. Read on to learn how to cut it, how to cook it, and more!

Fennel

Everyone goes crazy for kale, but if I had my way, fennel would be all the rage too. It’s one of the most underrated vegetables, and if you’re not already cooking with it, you absolutely should be. It has a fresh, aromatic anise flavor, and it can be eaten raw, sautéed, roasted, or even added to soups and sauces. If you’ve never worked with it before, this funky-looking veggie might be intimidating from the outside, but don’t let it scare you. Once you know how to approach it, it’s easy to work with.

What is fennel?

Fennel is a member of the carrot family, though it’s not a root vegetable. The base of its long stalks weave together to form a thick, crisp bulb that grows above ground. Above the bulb, at the tip of the stalks, it has light, feathery leaves that resemble dill. When it goes to seed, fennel also produces small yellow flowers among the leaves. Every part of it is edible, from the bulb to the flowers, and it can be eaten raw or cooked.

Though the stalks and leaves are edible, fennel recipes most often call for the bulb. When raw, it has a crisp texture similar to celery and a fresh licorice flavor. It caramelizes as it cooks, taking on a sweeter flavor and tender, melt-in-your mouth texture.

And did I mention that it has all sorts of health benefits too? It’s low in calories, but high in nutrients like dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, to name a few.

Shaved fennel

How to Cook Fennel

One of my favorite things about fennel is that its character changes depending on how you cut it. And with this vegetable, how you cut it and how you cook it go hand in hand.

If I’m craving raw fennel, I almost always thinly shave the bulb on my mandoline, removing any tough core pieces. Then, I marinate it in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. This crisp, thinly sliced fennel is delicious on its own or in a larger salad. Dress it up with herbs, nuts, and shaved Parmesan cheese, toss it with greens and simple vinaigrette, or use it in one of these salad recipes:

Shaving fennel is also a great move if you want to sauté it. The thin slices will melt and brown in the pan, taking on a delicious caramelized flavor. Try this technique in my Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Recipe!

How to cut fennel

If I plan to roast fennel, I slice it 1/2-inch wedges. First, I clip off the stalks so that I’m left with the white bulb. I cut it in half vertically and then cut each half into several wedges.

How to cook fennel

To roast the wedges, spread them cut-side-down on a baking sheet with a little space between each one. Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until the wedges are tender and caramelized around the edges.

Roasted fennel on a baking sheet

Serve the wedges as a side dish with a squeeze of lemon or add them to a salad. You could also remove the tough core pieces and toss the roasted fennel with pasta or add it to a hearty vegetarian lasagna.

Fennel fronds

Fennel Fronds

Recipes most often call for the bulb, but don’t toss those tops! Finely mince the fronds to use as an aromatic garnish for salads, soups, pasta, and more, or save the fennel stalks and leaves to use in homemade vegetable broth. Find more ideas for using common vegetable scraps in stock in the Scrap Stock Recipe on page 106 of Love and Lemons Every Day.

Fennel bulbs

More Basic Vegetable Recipes

If you loved learning how to cook fennel, try one of these basic vegetable recipes next:

What is Fennel? + Roasted Fennel

rate this recipe:
5 from 10 votes
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Serves 2
This preparation is simple, but it's still one of my favorite fennel recipes. The wedges caramelize in the oven, taking on an irresistible sweet and savory flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 fennel bulb, fronds removed and cut into wedges
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Toss the fennel wedges with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread evenly onto the baking sheet.
  • Roast 25 to 35 minutes or until the fennel wedges are tender on the inside and browned around the edges.

7 comments

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  1. Sabrina from newkitchenlife.com
    03.10.2020

    another great how-to, thank you, and nice tip to about using the fronds as a garnish and stocks for soup!

    • Chuck
      03.11.2020

      Seeds are a prime ingredient in Italian sausage!

  2. Alex
    03.11.2020

    You can use the Greens for a fantastic pesto too!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      03.11.2020

      I love that idea! Thanks!

  3. Sandra
    03.11.2020

    Another lovely salad is to slice fennel on a mandoline and add orange slices. Toss a good extra vergine olive oil and sprinkle some non salted pistachio nuts on top. Enjoy!

  4. Delayna Garrett
    08.26.2020

    Can i chop it smaller n put in spaghetti sauce?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      08.30.2020

      yep, it would be delicious in spaghetti sauce.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.