First things first: select small to medium-sized white bulbs that are heavy and firm with bright green feathery fronds. Avoid bulbs that are really large, have moist spots, or appear shriveled and dried out. Bulbs and stalks should be free of cracks, splits, and any discoloration or bruising.
The fennel you buy at the market is also known as bulb fennel, Florence fennel, or finocchio, though due to its similar flavor, it sometimes gets confused with anise. Fact: anise is an entirely different plant, but the two do come together to flavor absinthe. (Think about that the next time you sip one of these.)
How to Store Fennel
Similar to carrots, if you’re storing fennel in the fridge, you’ll want to separate the stalks from the bulb and store the two parts separately in plastic bags. For a non-plastic option, try storing fennel upright in a cup of water on the counter. Either way, try to use your fennel within a few days -- any more than that, and it starts to lose flavor.
Like celery, the entire plant can be consumed -- here's how to make the most of every last bit.
Bulb If you’re still craving comfort foods, try fennel on a flatbread, paired with celery in a gratin, or with braised potatoes. Spring can’t come fast enough? Then use your fennel bulb in a greek salad or a shaved salad with celery. If you're not a fan of licorice, ease yourself into fennel's charms by roasting it. Pair it with couscous, or blend it into this white bean dip; roasting fennel will bring out its sweetness and soften its flavor.
According to The Barbeque! Bible, you can dry fennel stalks in the oven to preserve them. Just remove all fronds, and arrange the stalks in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake them at 200°F for 3 hours, then turn off the heat and let them hang out in the oven overnight to finish drying. Mark Bittman suggests grilling fish on the stalks (keep the fronds attached for this one, or use your just-dried stalks), and they can also be used to make broths, infused oils, or in place of celery in dishes.
Fronds Chop up the fronds and use them like you would other fresh herbs. They're lovely in a pesto, an egg or potato salad, or as a garnish, like on this soup.
Seeds You’re probably familiar with seeing fennel seeds in sausages and stews (those “seeds” are actually fruits, but everyone refers to them as seeds). Aside from using them in crackers or a genius cabbage recipe, their subtle licorice flavor and nuttiness can even serve as a zippy breath freshener!
Pollen It may be a little more elusive, but fennel pollen has some diehard fans. It's been said that “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.” Sold yet? The pollen can be sprinkled on meat and fish, paired with mushrooms, or even with ice cream. Look for it in specialty stores or online, or if you have fennel in your garden, you can let it go to seed and collect your own: be patient, forgo harvesting the bulbs, and you'll be rewarded with sunny yellow pollen-filled flowers. If you want to be truly wild, go foraging.