A bulb of fennel looks like a bunch of celery with a wide, round base. It is a member of the parsley family and is prized for its mild, licorice flavor. The individual stalks are beautifully plaited, and broad and thin, while the tops are round and fleshy. Fennel leaves are ferny and also have a licorice flavor. All parts are edible. The stalks and bulb can be used raw, chopped in to salads, or cooked. Sautéing in butter with a simple fresh herb highlights its pleasant taste, and steamed fennel with a cream sauce is also excellent. English cooks in centuries past made a cod fennel soup with the sliced stalks, some wine, sugar, ginger, and almonds. The leaves are an herb that can also be chopped and used as a garnish.
Among herbalists, fennel is viewed in several ways: as an intestinal antispasmodic, for relieving intestinal spasms or cramps; as a carminative, for relieving or expelling gas; or as a stomachic, for toning and strengthening the stomach; and as a anodyne, for relieving pain.
To prepare, separate the stalks, cut off the base where they are connected then pull the stalks apart gently. To cut the bulb into wedges, trim the base no more than necessary then carefully quarter the bulb lengthwise. If left exposed to the air for a very long time, the flesh can discolor. Either rub cut parts with lemon or place in a bowl of water splashed with vinegar for no longer than 30 minutes.
The feathery leaves make a nice garnish or can be chopped and used as an herb. The top round stalks can be used for a stock seasoning. Fennel is delightful raw, dipped in light sauces, and a lovely addition to salads. It is best roasted, braised, grilled, or sautéed. Or it can simply be simmered in a seasoned stock. Fennel is wonderful with fish, tomatoes, oranges, apples, walnuts, cheeses, lemon, and dill. Allow about ½ bulb per serving.