Coddling Baby Fennel

Don’t you just love the name baby fennel?  It sounds much more beguiling than just fennel.

Baby vegetables are either cultivated to be just babies or, including this baby fennel, are harvested before they reach maturity, so they are miniature versions of the fully matured vegetable. Generally, that means they’re not only more tender, but also more delicate in flavor.

Fennel is sometimes mistakenly labeled anise, which is a completely different plant from fennel.

If you have fennel seeds in a spice jar in your pantry, those also are not from the same species that produces this lovely, off-white bulb. Confusing, I know.

Fennel seeds come from the common fennel plant and the bulbous vegetable is called Florence fennel, or finocchio in Italian.

Florence fennel can be eaten raw or it can be cooked. Raw, it has a crisp crunch and a delicate, understated flavor of licorice, much milder than the fennel seed.

Roasting the fennel, like you would butternut squash, sweetens the fennel, making it silky tender, too.

To use the fennel in a salad, cut the bulb from the green stalks. The feathery fronds on the stalks, which resemble dill in appearance, can be used as a garnish.

I like to shave the fennel using a mandolin, and the one in the picture above is my favorite mandolin. It’s a Japanese Benriner.

Once cut, the fennel will oxidize (turn brown), so shave it just before you plan to serve it to retain the whitish color.

Tossing it with a delicate acid, like orange juice, will slow down the oxidization.

We’re making an orange and fennel salad here, so after shaving the bulb into delicate ribbons, peel the pith from an orange, and separate the segments of the orange.

Squeeze the pulp of the orange after you’ve removed the sections over the fennel and toss.

To finish the salad, toss the shaved fennel and orange segments together, and then snip pieces of the fennel fronds over the top. Season with a little salt and pepper before serving.

If you are so inclined (and don’t live with an olive hater) adding a few chopped black olives would really enhance this salad, adding a salty element to the sweet taste of the orange and fennel.

I especially like the wrinkly, dry-cured black olives. But, alas, I do live with an olive hater, so no olives for this salad.

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