It’s finally fall; time for the crisp vegetables that echo the snap in the air. My favorite? Fennel.

Because it’s so deliciously versatile, fennel is most often used as an ingredient, not as the center of the plate. It’s fabulous when fresh as a snack or served in salads, simmered in soups and stews, stir-fried or braised. The aromatic fennel seeds are also harvested for spice. Raw fennel is as crunchy as celery with a sweet-mild anise note. When cooked, fennel turns silky and mellow and its flavors are more distinct.

The fennel in our farmers markets is sold with its beautiful fronds attached to the bulbs. Many grocery stores stock just the bulbs, but the fronds make a fabulous garnish and enhance soups and stocks. Look for fennel that’s firm and full without nicks or bruises. The bulbs should be a pale whitish-green and the fronds should be firm and bright. When you get the fennel home, remove the fronds from the bulb and store both in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to five days.

With its crunch and mild licorice taste, fennel is a fine alternative to celery, which can often turn bitter and overpower a dish.

Here are a few ideas for using fennel. Be sure to garnish them all with the pretty fennel fronds.

Shaved fennel and radish salad: Toss shaved red radishes with shaved fennel bulb and dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast chicken and fennel: Place thick slices of fennel bulb in the roasting pan with chicken parts and baste occasionally. The fennel will become deliciously silky and tender. Serve the roast chicken and fennel drizzled with the pan juices.

Fennel and apple slaw: Toss together thinly sliced fennel and apples with your favorite coleslaw dressing. Add a few dried craisins for sweetness, and garnish with fennel seeds. This tastes even better the next day.

Fennel potato mash-up: Add chopped fennel to your favorite mashed potato recipe. Simmer the fennel with the potatoes before smashing in butter and cream.

Fennel basil pesto: Add a few chopped fennel fronds to your favorite pesto recipe for a nuanced, licorice flavor. This is especially good on pizza and tossed with fresh chopped tomatoes.

Roasted fennel with Parmesan: Cut several fennel bulbs into wedges and arrange in a baking dish with sliced onions. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Roast in 350-degree oven until tender, about 35 to 45 minutes, remove and sprinkle with plenty of shredded Parmesan cheese. Return to the oven and continue baking until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.

 

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.

Fennel and Red Pepper Salad With Lemony Yogurt Dressing

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This tangy dressing is great on chicken or lamb and makes a fine vegetable dip. It will keep up to 3 days in a covered jar in the refrigerator. From Beth Dooley.

• 2 large fennel bulbs, stems and fronds separated and reserved

• 2 red bell peppers, seeded, deveined and diced

• 6 green onions, white part, thinly sliced

• 1 garlic clove, crushed

• 1/2 c. plain yogurt (whole milk preferred)

• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

• Generous pinch of sugar to taste

• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Slice the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, then into half-moons crosswise and place in a medium bowl. Toss in the diced red pepper and green onions.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the garlic, yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over salad. Serve garnished with the fennel fronds and ground black pepper.

Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:

Calories 99 Fat 5 g Sodium 60 mg

Carbohydrates 11 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 7 g

Protein 3 g Cholesterol 3 mg Dietary fiber 4 g

Exchanges per serving: 2 vegetable, 1 fat.