Wild Fennel – Fenouil commun
Native to the Mediterranean region, Europe and Asia. It is a perennial with erect glaucous stems up to 2.5 m. which become hollow with age, The leaves are feathery, 3-4 pinnate with numerous thread-like lobes. It looks similar to Dill, but the leaves are much thinner. Do not grow Dill and Fennel next to each other as they cross-pollinate. The umbels consist of tiny yellow flowers, flattish, with 12-30 rays on short pedicels. They have no bracts. The seeds are ridged. All parts of the plant are aromatic, with an aniseed-like scent and flavour. It belongs to the Carrot Family, Umbelliferae.
The herb has a long history, the ancient Greeks and the Romans used it in their cooking and as a medicinal herb. The Greeks believed that the plant had slimming properties. Both Hippocrates (460-370 BC), considered to be the father of medicine and practised his trade on the island of Kos and Dioscorides (40-90AD, another Greek physician, pharmocologist and botanist, who wrote the “Materia Medica“, a handbook on medicine that was in use till the 16th century, recommended the usage of fennel to increase the production of mother’s milk. In the Middle Ages it was used for various ailments, eye problems, snake bites and mushroom poisoning. The seeds were eaten to improve the digestion. It was considered one of the nine most important herbs to protect against illness.
Medicinally, all parts of the plant are used: the leaves, stems, roots, seeds and oil. Two of the main constituents are anethol and fenchone. Anethol gives a sweet, anise-like aroma, whilst fenchone has bitter tones. It very much depends on where the Fennel grows and on what type of soil, which of the two is more dominant. In the Mediterranean region it is anethol, whilst in central Europe and Russia it is fenchone.
The oil is used in food flavouring, toothpastes, soaps and air fresheners. It is the primary ingredient in ‘Absinthe’. Internally it treats indigestion, wind, colic, insufficient lactation (seeds) and urinary disorders (roots); externally as a mouth wash for gum disease or as a gargle for a sore throat. Domestic gripe water can be made by combining fennel water with sodium bicarbonate and syrup. A compress dipped in fennel water and laid on the eyes for 15 minutes relieves tired eyes and inflamed eyelids. Chewing fennel seeds helps to suppress hunger.
To make Fennel water: crush fennel seeds, as a measure use 1 tablespoon of ground seeds to 1/2 litre of hot water (has to be boiled and left to stand for 3 minutes before use). Pour over the seeds, cover, let it soak for 15 minutes, strain and voilà, it is ready to be used.
The seeds are one of the ingredients in Middle Eastern and Asian spice mixtures. Roasted fennel seeds chewed after a meal helps the digestion and freshens the breath. It is much used in fish dishes, in Italian fennel sausages and in Provençal cuisine. One of my family’s favourite local recipes is ‘Poulet au Pastis”. The leaves and stems of fennel are used in this dish.
The bulb variety (Fennel bulbs), sold as a vegetable, has been developed in Italy. It is very similar in smell and taste to Wild Fennel, but it does not have the same medicinal properties.
Poulet au Pastis
Ingredients: 8 chicken legs, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 6 tomatoes cut in pieces, some fennel branches, 2 onions, 1 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds, 2 small boxes of saffran, 1 glass of pastis. 4 potatoes cut in rounds, 1 large bunch of parsley, salt & pepper, 1-2 chillies, some slices of white toasted country bread. Serves 6.
Cut chicken legs in two, remove the skin. Mix pastis, olive oil, saffran, pepper and salt. Rub the chicken pieces with the mixture, leave to marinate overnight.
In a heavy casserole fry gently the onions, garlic, and tomatoes till it has becomes a thick paste. Add the fennel branches, fennel seed, parsley, chicken and potatoes. Cover with the marinade and boiling water. Bring to boiling point, simmer for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked and potatoes are done. If after 30 minutes there is too much liquid in the pan, remove chicken and potatoes and reduce the sauce.
Serve the dish with bits of toast coated with the rouille: crush 1 garlic and the chillies in a pestle and mortar, add some olive oil and some of the cooking liquid. Add a few bits of potatoes. The mixture should have the consistency of a thick paste.
Buttermilk and Fennel Soup
Ingredients: 50 gr butter; 4 leeks; 275 gr of potatoes; 600 ml of stock; salt and pepper to taste; 600 ml of buttermilk; 6 tablespoons of chopped fennel.
Fry the leek gently for 8 minutes in the butter. Add the chopped up potatoes, stock, salt and pepper. Simmer covered for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Cool slightly, liquidise and at the same time add gradually the buttermilk till you have a smooth soup. Adjust seasoning and chill. Stir in chopped fennel shortly before serving.
Fish Soup with Fennel
Ingredients: 1.5 gr of firm fish fillets cut in bite sized pieces; 1 bay leaf; 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley; 1 tablespoon of chopped coriander; 1 liter of fish stock; salt and pepper to taste; 1 chopped small onion; 1 chopped carrot; 1 chopped leek; 50 gr of butter; 1 tablespoon of flour; 2 tablespoons of sour cream (or cream fraîche); 2 tablespoons of chopped fennel.
Fry the onion, carrot and leek, in 25 gr butter for 5 minutes, stir in the fish stock, bay leaf, parsley and coriander, let it simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. Stir in the fish fillets, let them cook for 5 minutes. Remove the fish but keep warm. Liquidise the soup. Melt the rest of the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and let it cook for 1 minutes. Stir the liquidised soup into the flour mixture, simmer for 3 minutes whilst stirring. Add salt and pepper, put the fish pieces back into the soup, stir in the cream. When the soup is at the right temperature, add the chopped fennel, let the soup rest for a few minutes. Serve
Scrambled Eggs with Fennel
Ingredients: olive oil; 8 eggs; salt and pepper to taste; 4 thick slices of wholemeal bread; 4 fresh, skinned, chopped tomatoes, seeds removed; 1 tablespoon of chopped fennel. Any other whole fish can be used in the same way.
Melt 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. Beat the eggs lightly, add salt and pepper, stir into the frying pan. Cook to the consistency you like. Toast the bread, mix the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, spread over the toast, topped by the scrambled eggs. Serve with the chopped fennel sprinkled over the eggs.
Mackerel with Fennel Stuffing
Ingredients: 4 mackerel; 1 small onion; 25 gr butter; 50 gr of soft breadcrumbs; salt and pepper to taste; 2 tablespoons of fennel leaves; 1 beaten egg; olive oil; 3 lemons.
For the stuffing: Fry the onion in the butter till golden brown. Take it off the fire, stir in the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, chopped fennel and egg.
Fill the fish with the stuffing. Make 3 diagonal cuts on each side of the fish, pour over each fish some olive oil and lemon juice. Grill under high heat for a few minutes, reduce heat to finish cooking. They should take about 8 minutes on each side to cook. Serve with cut lemons.
Seviche of Scallops with Herbs
Ingredients: 10 large scallops; 150 ml of lemon juice; 1.5 tablespoon of chopped shallot; 1/2 tablespoon of chopped tarragon; 1/2 tablespoon of fennel; 1/2 tablespoon of chives; 1/2 tablespoon of parsley; 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil.
Cut away the orange flesh. Wash the scallops and dry them. Cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick. If you want to add the coral, prepare in the same way as the scallops. Put the sliced scallops in a bowl and cover with lemon juice (There should be enough lemon juice to cover them), Cover with cling film and put into the fridge for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Before serving, drain off the lemon juice, stir the oil into the fish mixture. Chop the vegetables very finely, add to the scallops mixture. Serve with brown bread and butter.
Chicken with Herbs in Foil
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard; 2 tablespoons natural yoghurt; 4 chicken breasts; salt and pepper to taste; olive oil; 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley, 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped fennel; juice of 1 lemon.
Mix the mustard and yoghurt together. Tear off 4 pieces of foil, large enough to wrap each chicken piece. Oil the foil, place the chicken on the foil, coat the chicken pieces with the mustard and yoghurt mixture. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken pieces, followed by the herbs, followed by the lemon juice. Wrap the parcels, folding the ends tightly so that no juice can escape. Lay the parcels on a tray. Oven temperature 190C for 30 mins.
Beetroot with Fennel
Ingredients: 675 gr of cooked beetroot; 25 gr. of butter; 150 ml sour cream; salt and pepper to taste; 2 tablespoons of chopped fennel.
Peel the skin of the beetroot (if it has a skin) and cut them into thick slices. Melt the butter in the pan and cook the sliced beetroot gently until heated through. Add the sour cream and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped fennel.
Tomatoes with Florentine Fennel and Wild Fennel
Ingredients: 4 small heads of Fennel; olive oil for frying; 450 gr of tomatoes; salt and pepper to taste; 3 tablespoons of fresh Fennel.
Cut the Fennel into thin vertical slices. Heat enough oil in the pan to cover the bottom of a frying pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with the Fennel, let it cooks slowly, stirring often till almost soft. Add salt and pepper. Skin and slice the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes to the Fennel, let it cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring very gently to avoid breaking up the tomatoes. When ready stir in the chopped Fennel. Serve cold. This dish can be done one day in advance.
Bibliography: RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs – Deni Bown; Gebruik van farmaceutische en volkse geneeskruiden – L. Vandenbussche & Dr. P. Braeckman; Sauvage et comestibles – Marie-Claude Paume; The encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Wikipedia/Fennel – Web