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Fennel seems to have an identity crisis, which may have to do with the family size (3000 species) to which it belongs, including parsley, caraway, cumin and coriander. Yet, under any of its gastronomic guises it’s an enormously pleasing food that fills the kitchen with sweetly licoriced aroma conjuring sunny Mediterranean landscapes.
Italians employ the stem and bulb as a vegetable, the French treat it as an herb, using leaves in salads and the little known fennel flower to impart additional flavour to pickled olives and capers.
In the San Francisco area, where the wild fennel grows in abundance, naturally sprigs are used to accent grilled shrimps, braised lamb shank infused with fennel and garlic tastes heavenly. You can also pound fennel, celery, olive oil, boiled potatoes and garlic to create a vegetarian brandade. You can use it lightly grilled in salads, even dice it and stuff fresh fish before pan-frying. Indians who have millennia’s worth experience with fennel claim it to be an aphrodisiac and digestive at the same time.
Toronto, being the largest “Italian city” outside of Italy, identifies with fennel. Supermarkets routinely carry finocchio, or Florence fennel. Italians bake or braise it as an accompaniment to fish, meat and pork dishes. But the fennel goes best with fish. You can also use it diced in salads for an extra taste dimension.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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