M. is watching the cooking show Simply Ming while making dinner herself. From my study, I hear Chef Ming Tsai saying something about fennel.
Call me provincial ("You're provincial, Chas") but I had never eaten fennel until yesterday. I grew up with lots of wild game (elk, venison, pheasant, etc.) and fresh garden vegetables, but the list of the latter was limited to what grew well in the harsh climate and alkaline soils where we lived. (Swiss chard, anyone? Rhubarb pie by the ton?)
I never ate an artichoke until my undergraduate years—nor saw anyone eat a raw pear with knife and fork—when I had the good luck to fall in with some students who would today be described as "foodies." Even they never served fennel at their student-bohemian feasts (the first time I ever really enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner).
But the TV chefs—Lidia Bastianich is another one—talk about it so much that I started to think that the National Fennel Council was slipping them some cash.
(As for Chef Lidia, when she talks about fennel, I am reminded that she grew up next to Friuli, and that puts me in mind of Carlo Ginzburg's book The Night Battles, in which the benandati, 16th and 17th-century folk magicians who battled "the witches" in the dream state, were themselves told by the Inquisition that they were "the witches" and subjected to the usual penalties. Why this association? Because their weapons were fennel stalks, a weird little detail that perhaps make sense in the logic of the dream.)
So I made some noises about being deprived of the fennel experience and was rewarded with a dish of white beans, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and fennel.
OK, so it's like celery. It adds crunch and a mild anise-type taste.