What is it? I'm not sure but we're just getting acquainted and we like it. Crunchy, nutty, refreshing, fascinating eaten all by itself and just plain, but also plays well with others (and not bad fried in butter either).
Here is a recipe which features our welcome to fennel season in addition to celtuce. Caramelized fennel, yum. We've adapted this recipe from one in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors cookbook. If you don't yet have a Deborah Madison cookbook, please purchase one now. She honors vegetables and the seasons in a delicious way you will appreciate and savor.
Fennel Celtuce Pasta Wonder
3 large fennel bulbs with greens
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon sunflower oil
freshly-ground pepper and salt
juice and grated zest of one lemon
1 minced garlic clove
One stalk Celtuce, peeled, quartered, and sliced
1 lb. capellini (rice pasta works fine too)
Set aside fennel greens, quarter the bulbs, and slice thinly.
Melt the butter and oil in a heavy, large skillet. Ad the fennel and saute over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in the lemon juice and one cup water. Reduce the heat and cook, covered, until the liquid has evaporated. Add another 1/2 cup water and cook until the fennel is very soft and deep gold in color, about 25 minutes. Grate pepper over fennel to taste. Chop a generous bunch of fennel greens, about 3/4 cup, and combine with the garlic and lemon zest.
Cook pasta in salted, boiling water until cooked but not soft. Strain the pasta and add it to the pan with the fennel. Also add the chopped greens mixture and the chopped celtuce and combine all. Season with more salt and pepper to taste if desired, and serve sprinkled with cheese (note tastes just fine without cheese too.)