Is there a difference between anise and fennel? I use fennel because I can't find anise in local stores.
— Pam S., Shady Cove
Fennel and anise have similar, licoricelike flavors. But they are indeed different.
Florence fennel, the type usually seen in markets, is a root vegetable with a feathery frond. The bulbous root can be sliced and eaten like a vegetable while the frond can be minced and used as a fresh herb. The flavor is similar to anise, but much milder, sweeter and more delicate. Fennel seed, usually dried and used to flavor sausage, comes from a related plant called common fennel. It's widely available in supermarket spice sections.
Anise is considered a spice. While shoppers rarely encounter the plant, the seed can be found in spice sections of well-stocked supermarkets, particularly in Italian-American communities.
It's used to flavor a lot of things, such as sweets and beverages common in Mediterranean countries. Sambuca is one anise-flavored Italian liqueur. Try it in this recipe with fennel.
Mussels In Sambuca
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 leek, white portion only, julienned
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed
1 ounce white sambuca
2 tablespoons chopped fennel
1 cup clam juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
Pinch chili flakes
In a wide pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and leek and saute until aromatic. Stir in the mussels, tossing with oil.
Add the sambuca, scraping bottom of pot; stir in the fennel, clam juice and cream.
Cover and steam mussels until they open. Season with the chili flakes and salt and pepper.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.