When I was growing up, family gatherings were pretty serious food events. Any time family walked through our door, the dining room table would immediately be loaded with platters of shellfish, pasta, trays of antipasto, and baskets of freshly baked breads.
Along with these heavier options, there always sat one unassuming platter filled with pieces of roughly chopped fennel, or finochio, as my grandmother used to say. Fennel, which acts as a digestive aid and a fresh, crisp palate cleanser, would remain on the table throughout our meal.
The fennel was always my favorite treat to nibble between courses. It was a sort of like vegetable candy, its mild anise flavor similar to the long strings of licorice I used to eat by the handful.
Fennel season is beginning to wrap up, but it’s possible to extend it into early spring by pickling a bulb or two. Simply slice the raw fennel into thin, crescent-shaped slivers and give them a bath in an orange-infused brine. The final product is a beautiful winter pickle that tastes a bit like black licorice with a subtle orange hint. It’s the ideal way to carry fennel with you even after its season ends.