A weekly series on what to do with your farmers' market impulse buys and CSA box surprises.
Fennel originated in the Mediterranean region, but now can be found all over the world. Bulb fennel, a vegetable also known as Florence fennel, is in season from Fall through Spring. Wild fennel, an herb, grows rampantly in the Bay Area throughout the summer months. The Florence fennel bulb is crunchy and tastes of black licorice. Wild fennel does not produce a bulb. Wild fennel flowers, seeds and pollen are all edible and produce a sweeter, more intense anise flavor.
How do I buy it? Look for firm, white bulbs with bright green stalks and leaves. Flowering is a sign that the bulbs were picked too late. To keep it from drying out, it can be stored with a damp paper towel inside of a plastic bag.
How do I eat it? Make sure to clean it really well, as dirt can get trapped inside the layers of the bulb. Trim the bottom of of the bulb and remove the stems, which are also edible, but tend to be a little fibrous. The bulb can be prepared raw, sauteed, roasted or braised. To make refreshing, raw fennel salad: cut into quarters and slice very thinly. Toss with mixed greens, olive oil, orange juice, salt and pepper.