How To Cook with Fennel

How are you eating local? This time a year, for me, a weekend Farmers’ Market trip almost always includes the purchase of several bulbs of fresh fennel.

This gorgeous Certified Naturally Grown produce is from Honey Tree Farm in Conover, NC as seen on Saturday Monrnings at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market in Building A

Fennel is the perfect all purpose vegetable. Terrific hot or cold, combined with a host of summer produce; used as a key ingredient in a mirepoix; or enjoyed raw and a cool and crunchy summer snack.

Start any Sauce with a Summery Mirepoix

A mirepoix is the flavor packed saute of fresh veggies and sometimes fresh or dried herbs you might use to start a sauce or soup. Typically a mix of celery, carrots, onions and sometime bell peppers, its an easy way to get flavors going at the start of almost every savory recipe.

In the spring and summer, I use fresh local fennel in place of or sometimes in addition to the celery to add a whole new level of flavor. Here’s in my quick and easy Marinara Sauce recipe to show you how fennel might fit into your regular culinary routine.


Heidi’s Summertime Marinara Sauce

1 large local carrot, minced

 A stalk local celery, minced ( or you can use several leaves of minced lovage)

1 bulb fresh local fennel, minced

½ local sweet onion, minced ( If you are in Charlotte, try New Town Farms Waxwalla onions for a fabulous flavor)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. dried oregano

8-10 whole fresh local ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped, seeds and juiced included

1/2 cup. fresh basil leaves

Start by heating a large sauce pan. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil and let it warm ( for just a minute or so) until it is aromatic. Add the minced and chopped veggies along with the dried oregano leaves. Sauté fennel, carrots, celery, and onion until very tender and slightly caramelized ( that is lightly browned0. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time until the tomatoes cook down to release all of their juices and create a sauce.

ProTip – for added flavor add a sliced of the rind from a wedge of real Italian aged Parmesan cheese – this won’t melt all the way, but as the tomatoes cook down, the Parm adds a wonderful extra layer of flavor. Remove the rind, before serving or before your puree the sauce.


Once the tomatoes have cooked down, Reduce heat, simmer 15-20 minutes, add the minced basil just before serving. I love this sauce in all its chunky splendor, but if you’d rather have a smoother sauce where you don’t see all the different veggies, simply use an immersion blender at the very end of your cooking.

Split fennel Bulbs from New Town Farms in Waxhaw, NC ( sold at the Matthews Community Farmers Market on Saturday Mornings and also available to order online ) are perfect to cook on the grill.

How to Cook Fennel on the Grill

Fennel is super simple to cook on the grill, perhaps as a side to any grilled steak, chicken or seafood. Begin by trimming the dill weed-like fronds off the top of each bulb. Then cut larger bulbs in half, leave more slender bulbs of fennel whole. While many recipes I found online suggested, brushing the bulbs with oil before grilling, I find this step unnecessary.


Instead use a great olive oil and perhaps a squeeze of orange or lemon juice and some salt and pepper to dress the fennel once it comes off the grill. To cook: place the fennel bulbs, on a grill or grill grid over medium heat and cook with the grill cover down for about 10-15 minutes, depending on size, turning them once halfway during the cooking time.

Heidi’s Tuna Burgers with Fennel Slaw

1 lb. fresh sushi-grade tuna fillet (my go-to when purchasing fresh seafood is Inland Seafood. In Charlotte and Raleigh, NC and in Atlanta, GA, consumers may order online and enjoy home delivery)

2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro

2 Tbs. finely chopped red onion or scallion

1 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. sesame oil

2 Tbsp. minced fresh local baby ginger

Sea salt and Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend

1 Tbsp. dark sesame oil + 1 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate EVOO for frying

Cut the tuna into 1-inch chunks and pulse in a food processor until just chopped, about 4 quick pulses – so that it looks like coarse ground beef. Gently stir in the cilantro, onion, mayonnaise, sesame oil, ginger, salt & pepper. Shape the tuna into 4 burgers.

This may be done up to 3-4 hours ahead of time.

Heat the sesame and olive oils in a large skillet or griddle.  Cook the tuna 1-2 minutes on each side – finished burgers will bel nicely browned on both sides but still have a pink center

Serve on a bun or on a bed of letter with sliced ripe tomato and Heidi’s Fennel Slaw ( recipe follows).

Heidi’s Fennel Slaw

2-3 large bulbs local fennel, raw or grilled

2 organic or local carrots, cut into Julienne shreds

¼ cup minced parsley

2-3 Tbsp. local ginger

For the dressing:

3 Tbsp. minced onion

3 Tbsp. sesame oil

2 Tbsp. Olive Crate certified organic strawberry balsamic vinegar

3 Tbsp. finely minced local ginger

2 Tbsp.  ketchup ( I love using the Hot Smoky ketchup from Vegetable Kingdom out of Asheville NC, available to order online for home delivery)

1 Tbsp. Mushroom-flavored soy sauce (My favorite here is Best Boy Brand available at any Asian grocery store)

1/2 clove minced garlic (optional)

Sea salt and Heidi’s Hot pepper blend to taste

Thinly slice the trimmed bulbs of fennel and combine in a bowl with the julienne carrot and minced parsley.

Make the dressing by combining the onion, sesame oil, strawberry balsamic vinegar, minced ginger, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and process until combined.

Toss with the shredded vegetables and serve on top of the tuna burgers ( or use as a base for a great summer salad studded with halved cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumber.)


Fennel Baked in a Parmesan Cream

4 large bulbs of fennel, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
1½ cups grated Parmesan
Sea salt and Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend

Heat oven to 425°F. Place the fennel bulb halves side by side, cut side up in a single layer in a oven-to-table baking dish.

In a bowl, toss together leeks, heavy cream, and 1 cup Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Transfer and arrange in baking dish, cut sides up. Cover with foil and bake for 60 minutes.

Remove foil, and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Finish baking until leeks are tender and browned, about 20 minutes.

Resources for ingredients used the recipes in this post

  • Inland Seafood – Visit OrderInland.com to order online for Home Delivery
  • Thanks to New Town Farms in Waxhaw for the Fennel photographed in the food pics in this post. Visit them on Saturdays in Charlotte NC at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market
  • Kores Estate Ultra Premium Olive Oil, Olive Crate Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Crate dried Oregano Leaves – Order Online at OliveCrate.com (FREE delivery and shipping during the COVID crisis)
  • Vegetable Kingdom Hot & Smoky Ketchup – order online at VegetableKingdom.com
  • Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend – a mix of Lampong, Tellicherry, Pink Reunion peppercorns and whole coriander seeds all available at the Savory Spice Shop Southend in Charlotte, NC. Simply combine equal amounts of each in a coffee grinder and grind fine or coarse to your taste.

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