Foeniculum vulgare, Latin for little hay, refers to fennel’s aroma, and is the source the name fennel in many contemporary European languages. Although some languages do not distinguish between fennel and anise, they are not one and the same.
With its pale green bulb and strong stalk topped with feathery green leaves, fennel resembles misshapen celery. The bulb consists of overlapping layers of finely ribbed meat, which also resembles celery in texture. Fennel’s flavor, however, tastes strongly of licorice. It adds sharpness when served raw in a salad, but mellows into the background when cooked.
Italian have long included fennel in their diet. In Roman times, both the upper and lower classes used fennel as an appetite suppressant. The rich ate fennel and chewed fennel seeds to ward off extra pounds while the poor snacked on wild fennel to ward off hunger pains.
When left to grow, the feathery green fronds emerging from the fennel stalks produce clusters of tiny yellow flowers. The flowers scatter tiny, brightly colored seeds. Rather than fading to dull brown when dried, fennel seeds remain green. The brighter their green, the fresher and more potent the seeds. Toasting deepens the seeds’ anise-like flavor, which complements fish dishes like Marios Pasta con le Sarde.