What Is Baby Fennel?
Baby fennel is an immature type of fennel, a vegetable often used to garnish both sweet and savory dishes. The herb originated from the Mediterranean region, but modern day cultivators from around the world can grow this plant if enough sun and water are available. Both the bulbs and leaves of the baby fennel plant are edible and contain a fair amount of vitamins and minerals.
Foeniculum vulgare, the scientific name for fennel, is actually part of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. This family of plants includes parsley, anise, and dill, among other herbs and vegetables. Many compare the taste of anise with that of mature fennel and baby fennel. Dill leaves and fennel leaves have a notably similar appearance but a markedly different taste.
Most conditions and climates are suitable for this plant, but it thrives best in coastal soils that receive plenty of direct sunlight. Even though baby fennel originated along the Mediterranean coast, it now grows naturally in dry soils near seas and rivers throughout the world. Cultivators can usually keep a fennel plant growing year-round in any region, however, as long as the plant receives enough sunlight and the soil is not too dense, clay-like, or wet.
The baby fennel bulb has a slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor while the leaves of the plant have a stronger taste comparable to licorice. Fennel leaves are often used for seasoning salads, soups, and cooked vegetables. Some cooks also use the leaves to flavor poultry and fish, but few use it for meats like pork or beef. The seeds of the plant, which are sweet like the bulbs, are often used in Italian sausage and rye bread.
Bulbs can be eaten raw or cooked. A chef may bake, boil, or steam the bulbs, season them with pepper or other spices, and serve the cooked vegetable as a side dish. Some cooks may even add finely chopped bulbs into stir-fries, stews, or other dishes consisting of multiple vegetables. Baby fennel should be used fresh whenever possible, though, since the flavor vanishes once the plant dries out. An individual can store freshly harvested fennel, placed in an airtight plastic bag or plastic wrap, in the coldest part of the refrigerator for four or five days maximum.
Baby fennel is a low-fat, low-calorie vegetable. A cup of chopped fennel only contains roughly 30 calories. The vegetable also provides noteworthy amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin and potassium, as well as small amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.
I love baby fennel, and I once used it to flavor beef. I could barely taste it, I guess red meat kind of overpowers fennel. So after that I've just stuck to using fennel with poultry and other dishes.
One of my favorite uses for fennel is in lasagna, as weird as that sounds. I like to make vegetarian lasagna, and a little bit of baby fennel adds a really interesting and pleasant flavor to the lasagna. I don't think I would do it with lasagna made with ground beef though.
@Azuza - Before you try to grow your own, I would check at some more stores. I have several grocery stores nears me, and not all of them carry fennel, but one does.
You can usually find fennel in stores that have a more extensive produce department. And of course most organic grocery stores carry fennel too. So you might be able to find it.
Just make sure you know what it looks like though. The first time I went shopping for fennel, I had no idea what it looked like as a raw vegetable. I'd just eaten it in a few different dishes.
I think both regular fennel and baby fennel are delicious. I'm also a big fan of anise, I think because I like black licorice so much. However, I have a really hard time finding fennel in stores around me.
I've actually been thinking about just growing my own on my back porch. The porch gets a lot of sunlight, and I could easily put some dry soil in a pot and probably grow some nice fennel.
Now all I have left to do is stop thinking about it and just do it!
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