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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

File Under: Learn Something New Every Day

On a recent cycling tour around Valencia’s surrounding villages and fields, I screeched to a halt to take in the beauty of a green, feathery field that looked as soft as a newly made bed. I had no idea what it was, but my companion told me it was hinojo, or “fennel” in English.

On closer inspection, I recognized the root bulb, something I’d seen in the market, but had never ventured to bring any home to cook, or whatever you do with a fennel root bulb. I’ve used fennel seeds, sometimes mistaking them for cumin (comino) when I’m congested and my sense of smell vanishes. The two seeds look very similar but trust me, they are not in any way interchangeable in the kitchen.

Oddly, both the English “fennel” and the Spanish “hinojo” come from a common Latin root (pardon the pun, but there’s really no way around it), feniculum, a diminutive of fenum meaning “hay.” While “fennel” bears a vague resemblance to the Latin fenum, the Spanish “hinojo” doesn’t, but the word “hay” in Spanish, heno, brings the circle around.

One click of the mouse and twenty-some centuries earlier, we have yet another revelation. The Greek name for fennel is “marathon” (μάραθον) or marathos (μάραθος), and the place of the famous battle of Marathon literally means a plain with fennel.

Two yummy things to do with fennel:

Shave and toss with Valencia orange wedges and a light vinaigrette for a delicious spring salad.

Slice in half crosswise, top with buttered breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese, then bake. 

This house was next to the field. I was overcome with bougainvillea envy as I have a couple of sickly versions of this plant on my little balcony.
 

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