A tight creamy-green bulb with bright green stalks and feathery fronds, fennel is not really a bulb at all but the swollen part of the plant's stalk. Also known as Florence fennel, it has a mild liquorice flavour that mellows on cooking. Fennel aids digestion and is high in several vitamins and minerals.
Florence fennel and sweet fennel are alternate names for the farmed fennel bulb. The fresh fennel herb is the same plant, allowed to grow taller and harvested differently. Wild fennel has slim stalks rather than a "bulb" but has similar feathery fronds and flavour. Fennel seeds, which are used as a spice, have a much more powerful liquorice taste.
Fennel can be served raw in wedges as a crudité, or sliced paper-thin on a mandolin and dressed with oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. In Italy fennel is traditionally served at the end of a meal as dessert with fruit and cheese. Try it in place of onion or leeks in soups, cheesy bakes such as potato dauphinoise, and pasta sauces. Fennel can be grilled, roasted, deep-fried in batter or braised in chicken stock. Good flavour matches include lemon, garlic, tomatoes, aubergines, olives, orange - in fact, almost anything Mediterranean. Use the stalks in stuffings for fish, seafood and chicken, or dry them and add to barbecue coals to give an aromatic smoke. The decorative fronds can be employed as a garnish or flavouring, anywhere you would use dill.