Life-hacking the Whole Fennel Plant

How to make use of a whole fennel from flower to bulb

A person hiding behind a long fennel plant

Fennel is something most people either love or hate — its anisseedy flavour often leaves no room for compromise. As a mediterranean plant, fennel is very popular Italian cuisine and grows in temperate climate all year long. But hey, we also have fennel up North!

Fennel seasons in Denmark from June till October, so no surprise that our GRIM box customers got to find a fennel in its prime in this week’s box. The picture to your left shows a 1,50 meters tall fennel plant, and did you know that they can grow as high as 2,5 meters? Add one more meter to that and you won’t need fennel for the rest of the year.

This is actually how fennel grows in nature and can be quite shocking to see if you’re only used to the trimmed down, censored version that supermarkets sell. A true beautiful, ugly vegetable, so to speak. But with the plant come the questions. What to do with all the parts?

Can I eat this?

The answer is: YES, you can. Actually, all parts of the fennel plant are edible, from its tender leaves to its plump seeds. And we recommend: Please do!

We collected a few tips and tricks of how to make use of your entire fennel plant.

A beautiful fennel plant

The bulb

The bulb is great both raw and cooked. When eaten raw, the texture is crisp and the flavour is quite assertive and anisseedy. Cooked, it’s softer and more mellow.

Cut into very thin slices for salads (a mandolin is good for this). Boil or steam (up to 20 minutes for a whole head, or up to 12 minutes for wedges). Roast (40–50 minutes).

For prepping, wash first, then trim off the green tops (but keep ‘em). Slice off the tough, inedible root and the soft shoots (and keep ’em as well). Peel off the tougher outer layer. If the bulb is particularly young and tender you can leave this layer on. To cook it whole, cut out the tough central core from the bottom, leaving a cone-shaped cavity. Alternatively, chop into quarters and remove the core from each one, but not too much, or the quarters will fall apart.

To store fresh cut fennel, wrap in damp kitchen paper and then place in a perforated bag, which is stored in the fridge. It will last for up to three days.

The small green leaves of the fennel on a plate

Green tops

The feathery green tops should be fresh and bright, with no yellowing. If so, you can use them as a pretty garnish. Cut them off with a scissor and store them, treating them like leafy greens. You can also place them in a glass filled with a couple centimetres of waters to keep hydrated :)

A peeled fennel stalk

Stalks and shoots

Wondering what to do with those long, fibrous stalks that are attached to the fennel bulb? And those fine shoots? Don’t ever throw them out. Use them like celery instead! Seriously, just take a bite. Where the shoots are tender and sweet, the stalk might at times be a bit stringy and tough. You’ll instantly taste the rush of licorice freshness that overwhelms your mouth.

If you have thicker stalks, then use a vegetable peeler to peel off the outer skin to get to the sweet core of the stalk. The thinner stalks that grow more at the top are often thinner and therefore more tender, so you may as well just snack them without prepping. Ever tried dipping them in hummus? Yum.

For your cooking, try swapping in fennel stalks for celery the next time you’re cooking a broth for your soup — that classic medley of onion, carrot and celery. Try quick-pickling the chopped fennel stalks, too, and adding them to your next salad. Or just slice them thinly on a bias and toss into the salad that you were supposed to use only the fennel’s bulb for.

A dried fennel flower

Flowers

Fennel’s umbrella-shaped yellow flowers are the most potent part of fennel in terms of taste, and therefore also the most expensive one if purchased. They are considered a delicacy in high class kitchens.

Cut the whole flower head from the plant and then in a cool place I cut the flowers carefully and let them dry on a tray. Once dry they can be crumbled between the fingers to obtain the pure yellow petals. Use as herbal tea or to sprinkle your food.

Hope this little guide helped you solve the mystery about fennel! Just try it out for yourself :)