Fennel is one of my new favorites as an ingredient although I have grown it on and off for years. It is very attractive in the border as well. Divided into two types: Florence Fennel, or Finocchio in Italian, forms a bulb-like base that is crunchy when eaten raw or sautes nicely to a tenderness similar to onion while retaining a slight crispness too. Its flavor is similar to anise or liquorice, but in a much subtler way.
Common Fennel is an ornamental that can be grown as a perennial in zones 6-10; Florence fennel is either an annual sown in the spring or a biennial if sown in the fall. Blanching it with piled up soil around the bulb keeps that part white from lack of sunlight.
Butterflies especially love the flowers, so watch for the green, yellow and black larvae of Swallowtail Butterflies – they may eat foliage but shouldn’t cause real danger. They can be handpicked and moved to another area to mature.
Combine 1/2 c raisins and 1/2 c orange juice – soak 30 minutes. Melt 2 T butter in a saute pan and cook 1/2 thinly sliced red onion until soft but not browned. Add 1 cored, thinly sliced fennel bulb and cook another 5 minutes. Add 1 T butter and the raisin-orange juice mix to the pan. Add 1 t sugar and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve warm alongside pork.