There are three main types of this aromatic plant. Bitter and sweet fennel are both used as herbs. They have pale green, celery-like stems, bright green, feathery foliage and greenish-brown seeds, all of which have a strong aniseed flavour that particularly complements fish. Florence fennel, also called finocchio or Italian fennel, is eaten as a vegetable and has a broad, bulbous base with a mild aniseed flavour.
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Look for small, blemish-free bulbs that are pale green, firm and tightly packed, which indicates crispness and freshness.
Both the base and stems of Florence fennel can be cooked by braising or roasting, which make it sweet and tender. Cut off the root end and the leaves and peel the outer layer of skin away, then cut either downwards or across the bulb, then boil in salted water for about 15 minutes, or until tender. For those who like raw fennel, try mixing thin slices into a green salad or shredding it with citrus fruit. Fennel is excellent for making soup or it can be poached, steamed or briefly boiled.