Friday, August 5, 2011

Farm Fresh: Fennel!

Welcome to my Summertime Foodie Friday series: Farm Fresh! This is an extra-special installment, with a World Breastfeeding Week theme.

I decided to take advantage of the abundance of the Summer growing season by featuring a new unusual vegetable each week. These vegetables may be ones you've had before, or ones you've heard of but never dared to taste. Or, they may be ones you had no idea how to prepare to eat. I'll include a bit of information about the vegetable, a simple recipe, and a linky so you can share your favorite recipe featuring the vegetable of the week. The link collections will be open for a full month after I feature a vegetable, so you can experiment with it and then come back here and link up your successes.

The series will run through the end of August, and I'll publish a post every week or two. So far, I've featured artichoke, kale, eggplant, beet, zucchini, kohlrabi, and this week, fennel!

If there's a vegetable you'd like to see featured in the series, or if you have a preparation tip to add, please let me know in the comments. And don't forget to link up your fennel recipes in the linky below! 

Since it's World Breastfeeding Week, I've decided to feature fennel today because it is a galactagogue: a substance that promotes lactation. Lactogenic foods like fennel are often used by nursing mothers to help increase milk supply. Other galactagogues include fenugreek, asparagus, blessed thistle, brewer's yeast, alfalfa, red raspberry leaf, and nettle. (For more information about galactogogues, see the further reading section at the end of this post.)

Of all the galactagogues out there, I decided to feature fennel this week because I'd never had it before!

A little more background information about fennel:
Florence fennel is the type of fennel that has a swollen, bulbous stem which is used as a vegetable. Other kinds of fennel are used as herbs and in medicinal preparations. Along with anise, fennel is one of the main ingredients in absinthe. Fennel can be eaten both raw and cooked.

Medicinally, fennel can be used as a diuretic, and is effective for treatment of hypertension. Fennel can be made into a syrup to treat colic in babies, though prolonged use of fennel in infants is not indicated because it contains a compound that can act as a phytoestrogen in the body. (From Wikipedia's Fennel article.)
Fennel is attributed with lactogenic properties primarily because of the phytoestrogenic effects it has in the body.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about preparing fennel this week, because I don't particularly care for the flavor of licorice (which is exactly how fennel smells). For that reason, I didn't try it when it was raw, since the smell of it was quite overpowering. I chose to modify this baked fennel with Parmesan recipe to use this week because I was so apprehensive about eating fennel. I figured, if I don't like it covered in Parmesan, I won't like it prepared any way.

You will need:

2 Fennel bulbs
1 Tablespoon butter
¾ cup half & half
¾ cup sour cream (original recipe called for creme fraiche)
¼ cup Parmesan cheese (grated would probably work best, but I used shredded)

Here's how:
  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Cut off the base of the fennel, and cut around the core to remove it. (If you don't do this, it'll just take a bit longer for the fennel to cook).
    You can see the core pretty easily.
    I found it difficult to remove, but it cooked down fine
    with the bits that were left.
  • Slice it vertically (from the top down) into ¼" wide slices. (I used a mandoline, to make it go faster, but a knife works just as well.)
  • Add the fennel to a skillet with the butter, and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes:
  • Add the sour cream and half & half, stirring it all together until it's well incorporated:
  • Transfer to a shallow baking dish, top with cheese, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and the fennel is tender:
So, after all the worrying and hand wringing, what did I think of the fennel?

I actually liked it! Jaymz liked it more than I did (I believe his words were, "very delicious") but I thought it was good enough. It kind of tasted like cooked onions, though not as strong of a flavor as I'd imagine onions would have in this preparation. The licorice flavor wasn't even noticeable. I'd like to try fennel again, though probably still cooked.

What do you think? How do you like to eat fennel?

For further information about galactagogues, visit:


  1. Oooh! So glad you featured fennel- we love it! We usually cut it up and boil it in water with a fair amount of lemon juice in it until tender, drain and serve drizzled with good olive oil and parmesan cheese.

    We will have to try this recipe too though!

  2. New follower and excited you are doing this series, I'm all about trying different veggies! My husband... er, not so much.

  3. I've never tried fennel. I've always been scared of it's supposed 'licorice' flavor because that is one of my least favorite flavors in the world. Now that you say the licorice flavor isn't noticeable, I might have to give it a try. :)

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