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Rosemarie Howard, Dramatic Dimensions, LLC
Select fresh fennel that is white, without blemishes, heavy for its size and firm to the touch.

Bonnie Marshall was first introduced to fennel when she and her husband lived in Europe, where fennel has been used for centuries for culinary and medicinal purposes.

In early Roman times, fennel was thought to improve eyesight, suppress hunger and control flatulence. Today, some recommend fennel for a number of uses that include improving digestion, helping alleviate heartburn and bloating, and assisting with slimming and weight loss.

“Fennel has a fresh, new taste,” she said.

Not only does fennel have a refreshing taste, it's low in calories and is full of dietary fiber and vitamins, including B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.

Fennel is often confused with anise — and with good reason. It is a relative of cumin, dill, caraway and anise. The plants are similar in appearance and all produce seeds that are commonly used in cooking and baking.

According to the Herb Society of America, there are five varieties of fennel. The common names for these varieties are: wild or sweet fennel, bronze fennel, Florence fennel, Roman fennel and wild pepper fennel.

Wild or sweet fennel provides the anise-flavored seeds most often used in cooking, while Florence fennel produces a bulb that looks like a cross between leeks and celery. The bulb has a mild, sweet licorice taste and is sometimes mislabeled “anise” in grocery stores. It is often used in Mediterranean cooking and can be grilled, baked, stewed or eaten raw.

Simple to use and easily found in most area grocery stores such as Smith’s, Reams, Harmons and Maceys and food markets such as Sprouts, fennel lends a light and refreshing flavor to salads and soups. The sliced, sauted bulb as well as the minced leaves go well with baked or grilled salmon.

When selecting fennel, choose bulbs that have a fresh white, unblemished appearance and are firm to the touch.

To prepare the fennel, cut off the leaves near the top of the bulb. The leaves can be set aside for use as garnish or as a chopped herb.

Slice off the bottom and cut the bulb in half vertically. Cut out the fibrous heart. Then slice the bulb according to the requirements of the dish you are preparing.

Here are some recipes to help you start a friendship with fennel.

Fennel Carrot Soup

1 pound carrots

1 bulb fennel

1 stalk celery

1 medium zucchini

1 medium Golden Klondike potato

2 medium cloves garlic

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups water or vegetable stock

Peel and cut the carrots; slice the fennel bulb; chop the celery, potato and zucchini.

Crush the garlic and herbs.

Saute the garlic, fennel and celery in the olive oil for two minutes. Add the other vegetables, the vegetable stock or water, and herbs. Cook until vegetables are tender.

Cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor. Garnish individual servings with fennel leaf. Makes six to eight servings.

— Rosemarie Howard

Spinach Fennel Salad

1 bunch fresh spinach

2-4 fresh mandarin oranges, or one 11-ounce can

1 small bulb fennel, sliced thin

¼ cup feta cheese

Mix all ingredients. Serve with balsamic vinegar. Makes four servings.

— Rosemarie Howard

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville, Utah. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at dramaticdimensions.com.