What is fennel?

Like Marmite, fennel is something that you either love or hate. Its strong aniseed flavour leaves no room for the middle ground. From the same family as the herb and seed of the same name, it's also known as Florence fennel, finocchio, or sweet fennel, is very popular in Italian cookery, and has a bulb-like shape that looks a little like a heavy-bottomed celery.

When eaten raw, the texture is crisp and the flavour is quite assertive. Cooked, it's softer and more mellow.

How to prepare fennel

Wash, then trim off the green tops (they can be used as a garnish). Slice off the shoots and root and peel off the tougher outer layer (if the bulb is particularly young and tender you can leave this layer on). To cook it whole, cut out the tough central core from the bottom, leaving a cone-shaped cavity, or slice if you prefer.

Alternatively, chop into quarters and remove the core from each one (but not too much, or the quarters will fall apart).

How to cook fennel

  • Cut into very thin slices for salads (a mandolin is good for this).
  • Boil or steam (up to 20 mins for a whole head, or up to 12 mins for wedges).
  • Roast (40-50 mins).

See our favourite fennel recipes.

How to store fennel

Freshly cut fennel should be wrapped in damp kitchen paper and stored in the fridge. It will last for up to three days. Fennel tends to discolour as soon as it's cut, so dress raw fennel for salads straight away, or toss in a little lemon juice to prevent it browning.

When is fennel in season?

You can find fennel all year round, but it's best from the start of June to the end of September.

Choose the best fennel

If possible, go for the smaller, young bulbs, as they're more tender. They should look white, with no blemishes, and feel heavy for their size. The feathery green tops should be fresh and bright, with no yellowing.

Alternatives to fennel

Try dill or fennel herb.

Our top 5 fennel recipes

1. Fennel gratin

Fennel gratin

Bored of the same old side dishes? Try our ultra-creamy fennel gratin with a golden-brown parmesan topping. This impressive looking dish is deceptively easy to make and showcases fennel's subtle aniseed flavour.

2. Barbecued fennel with black olive dressing

Barbecued fennel with black olive dressing

When the summer comes around, embrace our favourite piece of kit and try our barbecued fennel with black olive dressing. Chargrilling brings out vibrant flavours in veg and it's an easy method to master. It takes just 20 mins to whip up this satisfying side.

3. Peppery fennel & carrot salad

Peppery fennel & carrot salad

Enjoy the spicy Indian-inspired flavours of our fresh and light fennel & carrot salad. This healthy side dish is full of colour and texture from the sprinkling of chopped nuts. This recipe makes a great accompaniment to your favourite curry, or anything with plenty of heat.

4. Fennel & lemon risotto

Fennel & lemon risotto

Make a simple supper for two with our fennel & lemon risotto. This easy veggie dinner takes just 15 mins to prepare and it's adaptable too. For non-veggies, try adding cooked, peeled prawns.

5. Fennel gimlet

Fennel gimlet

For a sophisticated summer tipple, try our herby fennel gimlet. If you're not one for super-sweet drinks, our savoury cocktail will be right up your street. It's perfect for pairing with party nibbles and sharing platters.

Get more cooking inspiration with our ultimate fennel recipe collection.