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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Basic Vegetable Recipes
If you loved learning how to cook fennel, try one of these basic vegetable recipes next:
- Roasted Spaghetti Squash
- Sautéed Mushrooms
- Roasted Broccoli
- Lemon Roasted Cauliflower
- Roasted Butternut Squash
- Asparagus (Grilled, Blanched, or Steamed!)
What is Fennel? + Roasted Fennel
- 1 fennel bulb, fronds removed and cut into wedges
- extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 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.
1st time using fennel, going to make a Sausage and Pork Cassoulet. Thanks for the 101, had NO idea what I was going to do with it, and thanks for ur comments ladies….that’s also helped.
Can you eat the stem ?
Can you eat the stem ?
It’s pretty tough, but it adds wonderful flavor to vegetable broth. I freeze them until I’m ready to make broth: https://www.loveandlemons.com/how-to-make-vegetable-stock/
Yes, I steam it like celery for about 15 to20 minutes. Add a little cheese sauce if you like.
Question: I DO NOT like black licorice candy! Is there any chance that I might still like fennel? I’d like to like it, but people say it tastes like black licorice, so it seems like it might be a waste for me…Unless there is, maybe, a huge difference between the candy version & the fennel version, like there is between REAL maple syrup & grocery store maple syrup.
Hi MK, I absolutely cannot stand licorice candy but I love fennel. It might be a personal preference though, so it’s hard to say.
Oh, thank you! That’s all the answer I need to cause me to try fennel – someone else who hates licorice candy but loves fennel. Now I know there is at least a chance that I might like fennel, too…
If you had said “oh, it’s just like eating Good-n-Plentys” I would skip it alrogether. 😄
I also hate black licorice but absolutely love fennel. I might never have tried it but a friend ordered it in an Italian restaurant. One bite and I was hooked.
👍🏼 I’m gonna give it a try!
Two large fennel bulbs with voluminous feathery tops have arrived this morning in the CSA box. I am determined to roast them and add the tops to salads and stock. I have seen them growing wild on some of my walks through the local estuary and they smell divine. Can’t wait to try these recipes!
I hate black licorice also, but using fennel seeds in my cooking is delicious. I love sausage which has fennel in it, but can’t eat it anymore. So I add the seeds to my sauteed vegetables or if you add it to tomato sauce it tastes like there is sausage in it. My friend tricked me on that one. Lol. I put it in soup, in my broths…it really doesn’t overwhelm you with the licorice taste. Actually it just gives a hint of flavor along with whatever spices you put it in. I’m 68, have had cancer three times so I’m always on the lookout for foods that are “overall body healthy”. I can’t wait to try the roasted bulb.
These leaves on the fennel that looks like dill are good to put in a juicer to cleanse the body.
what a great idea for using them!
never new what it was or how to use, thank you
love fennel, very delicious for making dumpling
I have used fennel before. I juiced it with carrots and it was like drinking licorice but good for you. Today I am making yam gnocchi with a fennel based sauce.
I’ve never used fennel before but having read your posts I look forward to trying it. Thanks
I have always wondered about fennel and today I learned a lot.I really am fascinated and plan to start cooking with fennel.
I never coooked or ate fennel, but a friend gave me a bulb and I want to try it raw and cooked. Sounds great. Thanks.
I made your roasted fennel bulb today. Followed your recipe exactly. I am glad I set a timer to check them in 30 minutes. Which was still l about 5 minutes too long. I loved loved this dish. Will be placing them around a half of salmon. Using the fronds for color and decoration. I’m hoping the fennel doesn’t over cook While salmon is baking. When using this way next time I’ll pull them out a little sooner so they don’t over cook with the salmon. My new favorite dish I will make again. Thanks for a simple and delicious new treat.
I have a recipe that I need minced fennel . How do I do that.?Can I mince dry seeds?
Most likely it’s the minced bulb, not the seeds.
I want to put fennel in a green tomato pie.
Can i chop it smaller n put in spaghetti sauce?
yep, it would be delicious in spaghetti sauce.
I make all my home canned pasta sauce with fennel. So good
Can I have your recipe? I have fresh fennel bulb and stalks and leaves. First time for me.
I have never tried fennel didnt know it was so easy to fix. Thank you for sharing and I also used the greens in my veggie soup. This is my first time trying fennel. It was delicious.
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!
You can use the Greens for a fantastic pesto too!
I love that idea! Thanks!
another great how-to, thank you, and nice tip to about using the fronds as a garnish and stocks for soup!
Seeds are a prime ingredient in Italian sausage!
Can you freeze fennel after you dice it
You can if you’d like.