Lately, I find I am reaching for fennel bulbs more and more. What is fennel you ask? Fennel is part of the celery family - evident in the tall stalks at the top of the bulb - that flowers with delicate yellow flowers, has medicinal and culinary uses, and bears the fennel seed which is what makes Italian sausage taste like it does.
The bulb can be eaten raw or cooked, adds a very light anise (licorice) taste to foods and crunch to salads. It is also the one of three herbs used in making Absinthe.
Fennel shows up in Mediterranean dishes (finnochio), Middle Eastern dishes, and even some German salads.
I personally love a good fennel and orange salad, with salty olive cured olives and a drizzle of olive oil. For clients that have restrictions on certain foods, I have reached for fennel as a substitute. One client hated celery - fennel stalks stood in beautifully. For my clients that can't tolerate onions, fennel adds a nice flavor without overpowering the dish. Fennel can be sauteed, or made into a gratin. It pairs beautifully with citrus, tomatoes, and potatoes. It can stand up to onion and garlic, pork or fish, especially salmon. Throw some into your next coleslaw for a nice crunch. Or even thinly sliced in a salad with strawberries and pistachios
Carmelize some sliced fennel in a pan - low slow heat, stir often, much as you would do onions. Add to a pizza, make into a fennel onion tart, or add to a roasted pork sandwich for a nice pop of flavor. And yes - fennel can even be dessert - check out this cake.
So give fennel a chance - and for a good how to on how to cut it, Martha Stewart has a great video to help.