It is that time of year...the time where I am so excited to see herbs greening up, perfuming the air with their heady scents. In fact, I was out yesterday doing the first of what will be many spring cleanings (yes I am behind, but I had a bit of book-related traveling to do). As I was shearing back and pulling out, I caught the scent of anise, a warm, comforting fragrance on a sunny Portland day. The fennel fronds were waving at me...small and adorable...a friendly, fringey green. I started thinking of all of the dishes I could make, including one of my favorites, Fennel and Potato Gratin.
I leaned over to get a better look at my bounty and realized that I had inadvertently left some of the seed heads on from last year's crop. My stomach sank...oh, Lord, no...why did I do that? I remember thinking back in September that I needed to cut those off and harvest the seeds for winter cooking. And while I did get most of them, I realize now that I missed quite a few. This can only mean one thing: Attack of the Killer Fennel (dun, dun, duuuuuuuunnnnn). This picture is what it looks like at the end of summer.
In the event that you haven't ever grown this delicious herb, I recommend that you give it a try. It is super easy to grow. Just plant the seeds in early spring and the fronds will start popping up...everywhere. Keep in mind that if you don't want a garden full of it, you will need to cut the flower heads off once it goes to seed.
There are two kinds of fennel. One is the vegetable fennel (also called Florence Fennel) which forms a bulb that can be harvested and eaten. The other is the herb fennel which is primarily used for the seeds and fronds in flavoring dishes. The herb fennel is definitely a perennial, no need to replant it year after year. The vegetable fennel is theoretically an annual. But in my zone 7 garden, that thing lives on and on...the main stalk may die back, but the side shoots keep producing, giving it the feeling of perpetuity.
Though fennel can be a pain in the rear, it is absolutely one of my favorite veggies/herbs. Give it a try this year and see if you don't agree. Tune in to my Portland Foodie blog tomorrow for my Potato and Fennel Gratin recipe.