We don’t eat enough of this wonderful vegetable in Britain. There is no excuse considering how versatile it is, and it goes with almost everything. Here are two simple recipes for fennel to show off this wonderful vegetable. The first recipe is for a fennel and parmesan salad, showing how refreshing fennel is when it is served raw, thinly sliced. The second recipe is for fennel cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, showing how fennel can be soft and mellow when cooked slowly. Both recipes use flat leaf parsley. The fresh green flavour of parsley goes incredibly well with fennel, perhaps it is because they are members of the same family. Dill is another member of the Apiaceae family, which also has an affinity with fennel.
Fat bulbous fennel with its crisp, fresh aniseed taste has to be one of the best vegetables. I think fennel is good to eat all year round. English grown fennel is available from the start of summer through to late autumn, it is usually smaller with a strong aniseed taste. In southern Europe winter is the true time for fennel, where it grows best. However, despite it being large, beautiful and shiny, as Jane Grigson put it in her vegetable book, the fennel we import can be ‘beautiful but dumb’.
When preparing fennel – if you have long green stalks on yours, don’t throw them away. They can be used as a base for other dishes like you would use celery.
Fennel Salad with Parmesan and Parsley
This is one of my favourite salads. If you leave out the parmesan and add a little minced garlic and anchovy to the dressing it makes a wonderful salad, similar to the way the Romans eat the bitter and crunchy puntarelle, a variety of chicory. This is one of my favourite fennel recipes – parmesan and fennel is a fantastic combination.
1 fennel bulb
bunch of flat leaf parsley
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
It is difficult to give exact quantities for such a salad as it is hardly a recipe at all. First prepare the fennel. Cut the very bottom of the fennel to tidy it up. Remove the stalks and any other green bits from the top. If there are any brown bits on the outside remove these as well. Stand the fennel up straight on the board and slice it to create very thin cross sections, which looks very beautiful. Put this into a roomy bowl. Very roughly chop the parsley. In this salad the parsley is being used as a salad leaf rather than just something green. Add this to the bowl. Now shave some parmesan cheese into the bowl using a potato peeler or a cheese slicer – you don’t need too much. In another bowl whisk together 2 tbsp oil and a good squeeze of lemon. You don’t want this to be too lemony, just enough to lift the dish. Whisk in some salt and pepper, pour over the salad, and toss it.
Fennel in a Spicy Tomato Sauce
You can eat this hot, but it is also very good at room temperature. Eat it with some strong flavoured sausages.
500g tomatoes, 6 medium tomatoes roughly chopped
1 bulb fennel
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 bird’s eye chillies (dried), chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
small bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Heat up the oil slowly in a wide pan or pot that has a lid. Add the garlic and chilli. Slowly cook without colouring for 2 – 3 minutes until the garlic is translucent and you can smell it strongly. Now tip in the tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt. Put the lid on and leave it to simmer slowly for 20 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the fennel. Remove the very bottom of the fennel to tidy it up. Remove the stalks and any other green parts on the top. If you have nice fresh fennel with the fronds still intact keep them. They don’t have any flavour but they look pretty in the finished dish. Quarter the fennel, cut these quarters in two to make eight thin wedges. The root should be in every wedge to keep it intact. When the tomatoes have produced a loose sauce add the fennel. Remove the lid and cook for another 20 – 25 minutes or until you have a fairly thick sauce, and the fennel is tender and soft. Check the seasoning and finish with lots of roughly chopped parsley.