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Seasonal Eats: Root-to-Flower Fun with Fennel

Fennel Bulbs (Photo by Heather Parlato)
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If you're looking for the path back from your comfort-food-filled holiday weekend to farm-fresh fare, we';re taking a look at fennel today. Fennel is a plant with distinctively different parts that can all be used uniquely, for minimal fallout to the compost bin. Before we get into the recipes, let's talk about the 5 usable parts of fennel.

We mostly buy fennel for the bulb, but before you cut the stalks and leaves off, consider this: the entire plant is edible. The feathery leaves are a nice topper to soups and salads and a mildly fragrant & decorative addition to pickles and marinades. I cut the leaves from the stalks and set aside in a container for use through the week. The stalks are a bit too fibrous to be enjoyed raw as you might eat celery, but if you slice them up and simmer in a soup, they can add fennel's anise flavor and a nice crunch. I most commonly add sliced stalks to my vegetable stocks, which I'll detail in the preservation project below. Finally, the fruits [they're typically misnamed seeds, Wikipedia tells me] and flowers add a great seasoning to foods and can be extracted into liqueurs if you're interested in foraging the wild fennel all over Los Angeles. I'll go into those last two in springtime when they're available.