Growing up in an Italian-American household, one of the treats of spring was eating raw bulbs of Florence fennel. My mother would prepare it with a simple dressing of olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar. I grew up loving this anise flavored vegetable.
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While eating fennel raw is a delight, you can also cook with it. You can roast, grill, sautee and make soup out of fennel bulbs. If you like the taste of licorice and the texture of celery, you have to grow fennel.
Florence fennel is a cultivated version of the wild fennel plants that are native to the Mediterranean. Fennel has been used for years as a food and medicine. I munch on a small handfuls of fennel seed when my stomach is a bit off.
While wild fennel is grown for its leaf and seed production, Florence fennel is a shorter plant that forms a bulbous stem at the ground level. This is the part we normally eat. We grow Florence fennel as a food and to attract pollinating insects and butterflies. If you leave Florence fennel plants in the garden, they will eventually form a flat, yellow, flower head that's loaded with pollinating insects in late summer.
Florence fennel is easy to grow and likes cool, moist conditions to form the best bulbs. Plant varieties, such as 'Fino' and 'Orazio', now to mature in early summer. If you don't thin plants well or they get heat or water stressed they may not form bulbs. Even so, you can still eat the ferny foliage and stems or add it to recipes.