We are most familiar with the plump, white and green fennel bulb; referred to as Florence fennel, however the fennel herb; both green and bronze and also fennel seeds need to be considered.
A relative latecomer to the English culinary scene, fennel is one of those love it or hate it foods, a bit like anchovies, oysters or even olives. Its real place is in the Italian cookery repertoire or in the cooking of Provence.
Buy small fennel bulbs which should be smooth, firm and unblemished. They should also feel heavy relative to size.
Fennel has a distinctive flavour which seems to become addictive; I find that I’ve come to like it so much that I now have to exercise restraint with it. It has many different personalities which can be highlighted by applying different techniques to its preparation.
Fennel is great raw, thinly sliced in a salad to serve as a first course or as an accompaniment to grilled fish. Its good braised and then gratinated with Parmesan cheese to serve with grilled meat. Its good coated in a light batter and deep-fried in the Japanese tempura style. Its even pretty good cooked in sugar syrup and served as dessert. For a short while every summer at Bistro 21 we make a pannacotta flavoured with fennel herb from our garden and serve it with English strawberries. I guess that this versatility is its real value. For me it works best of all with Mediterranean style fish or with simply grilled veal.
4 ennel bulbs
1 mall onion (finely sliced)
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
100ml live oil
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
1 lemon (juice only)
Salt and pepper
Trim fennel bulbs and cut in half.
Sweat onion and garlic slowly in olive oil.
Add herbs, lemon juice, salt & pepper.
Add fennel and enough water to cover.
Bring to a boil, cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and braise in the oven at 140°C.
Remove from the oven when tender and allow to cool in the liquor.
When ready to serve, lift the fennel from the liquor and transfer to a clean dish. Spoon a little of the braising liquor around, cover with a butter paper and warm in the oven. (if desired, you could sprinkle the fennel with grated Parmesan and glaze under the grill.
Serve with grilled meat; veal, beef or chicken.
Fennel, orange and feta salad (serves 4)
Juice from 1 0range
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp wholegrain mustard
30ml cider vinegar
120ml olive oil
300g fennel (very finely sliced using a mandolin)
Juice from 1/2 emon
Salt and pepper
100g feta cheese
50g spring onions
120g red onions
40g black olives
Fennel fronds ( the feathery tops )
For the Dressing
Mix orange juice, sugar, salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.
Whisk in oil a little at a time.
For the salad
Peel oranges and slice thinly.
Season fennel with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Mix with the oranges.
Leave for a minute or two.
Add 2 tbsps vinaigrette and allow to marinade another couple of minutes.
Cut feta into slices.
Cut red onions into rings and spring onions on a long bias.
Arrange oranges, fennel, onions, cheese and olives onto plates.
Dribble over remaining vinaigrette.
Garnish with a few fennel tops and mint leaves.