The Difference between Fennel and Wild Fennel

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Fennel, or finocchio, as it’s called in Italian, is an important ingredient in Sicilian cuisine. It grows wild across Sicily throughout spring and into summer, and is the principal ingredient after sardines for pasta con le sarde. But wild fennel isn’t the same as the bulb fennel that we are familiar with in the US. In fact, wild fennel (finocchio selvatico) only grows naturally in Northern California here in the States, and isn’t so easy to come by in markets anywhere else in the country. In this photo, to show you the difference, on the left is domesticated bulb fennel–not the same plant or ingredient as what is used in pasta con le sarde, and next to it is a dried wild fennel stalk and its flower. They look different because they are. Both plants do have fronds (the little green leaves, not shown here on the dried wild fennel), but the aroma and flavor of the wild fennel is much more licorice-y than the bulb fennel. In the lemon dish is a wild fennel pate’ that I brought home from Palermo. Sicilians jar and preserve wild fennel so that they can enjoy pasta con le sarde or similar dishes throughout the year.

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