What is Fennel and How to Consume It

fennel bulb cut into quarters and served after a long, weekend, lunch
fennel bulb cut into quarters and served after a long, weekend, lunch

Young Scordo’s First Experience with Fennel

Like most foods I love today, my first introduction to fennel was a catastrophe.  My mother recalls a Christmas Eve dinner back in 1981 when a young Scordo (viz., me) erupted in a temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums when it was suggested by an inebriated uncle that he try a piece of raw fennel.  The modern day Scordo couldn’t live without fennel during the winter months and in honor of the upcoming holiday season I’ve decided to offer a brief FAQ on one of my all-time favorite vegetables.

About Fennel

Fennel is considered both an herb (seed) and a vegetable and most fennel found in the US is grown in California (in Calabria wild fennel can be found in the countryside). The most common type, finocchio or Florence, has a bulbous part  (which can be consumed raw or cooked) stalks, and leaves.  Fennel has an anise flavor and is very crisp, in terms of texture.

Fennel Recipes and Consumption

I often consume the fennel base raw (removing the outer shell and tough lower base) and as a digestivo after a large, holiday, meal or in a salad with fresh parsley, radish, and vinaigrette dressing (see my fennel, apple, arugula salad recipe as well).  Sliced raw fennel is also terrific in a large antipasto (“before the meal”) platter with salami, cheese, olives, and dried fruits.  You can braise fennel or sautee it with spicy sausage, for example.  The Toscana style associated with pinzimonio, meaning pinze, or tweezers, and matrimonio, or marriage, refers to how you pinch the vegetables and dip them into seasoned oil and is a nice way to include fennel in a vegetable platter. You can store fennel in the fridge for a few days wrapped in plastic.

The fennel leaves can be chopped and used in stocks or, for example, as a poaching ingredient for fresh fish. Fennel seeds are a popular ingredient when making pickles, sausage and salami.  Finally, fennel is very high in Vitamin C.


  1. I can’t remember my first experience with Fennel, or Finocchio, because it was something I always loved.
    What I do remember was the first time I ate it in Italy.
    We had spent the entire night on the train, followed by 2 hours in the predawn chill waiting for a bus that took us to my grandfather’s home town.
    My grandfather’s little brother, who was almost his twin took me out to see his garden. He had a great big patch of fennel, and he cut one out and gave it to me. It was wonderful. As I was finishing it, one of the other cousins said “that fennel isn’t very big” Like I cared!

  2. I adore fennel!. My first taste was in my 20’s. One of my mother’s college room mates served it raw with olive oil and salt and pepper with a mock turtle soup. (Those room mates were really something in the kitchen back then.) I couldn’t BELIEVE the taste! It was not a taste that was part of my mother’s kitchen. That was in the 70’s.
    I live in Italy now and we grow it in the garden. But it’s never as beautiful as the big beautiful bulbs in the market…on the other hand we have plenty of wild fennel seeds that we love to use when we cook pork chops and cannellini beans.
    Althoug I love it raw, my Florentine partner enjoys it most when I boil it, drain it and top it with parmigiano and put it in the oven. Simple and delicious!
    Will buy some for Thanksgiving when I go to the market domani mattina.

  3. Hi Martha
    Great story. I’ve heard a few folks tell me about using parmigiano with fennel (I’ll need to try the dish you mentioned). Do you live in Florence now?

  4. Nice story, Mimi! Like most Italian food the fresher the better (and you can’t beat straight from the garden).

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  9. Love fennel! Holidays aren’t the same without it and I buy it as often as I can. Love it just sliced thin as part of an antipasto but have started using it in salads and want to start cooking with it. It’s the best.

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