Good Food Blog
Our feathered frondsPosted at 10:50AM, 10 December 2009 by Carol Wilson - Food writer
Fennel is one of my favourite vegetables and I really can't understand why it's so sadly overlooked in the UK. Italians in particular love fennel, or 'finocchio', and snap it up from beautifully arranged stacks on market stalls.
A member of the umbellifer family, fennel is strongly aromatic with a delicate aniseed/liquorice flavour and is particularly good with fish dishes. Carrots and parsnips belong to the same family and are especially tasty when cooked with their fragrant relative.
Every part of the plant - bulb, leaves and seeds - can be eaten
Every part of the plant - bulb, leaves and seeds - can be eaten. Choose white bulbs with fresh bright green feathery tops. Actually, the 'bulb' is not a bulb at all, but is made up of tightly packed leaves, like the base of a celery stalk.
It's simple to prepare - just slice off the root and shoots and peel off the tough outer layer if necessary. Eat it raw, sliced very thinly, to add a crisp kick to salads. Leave whole and boil or steam for about 15-20 minutes, or cut into wedges and boil for about 10 minutes. Whole fennel can also be roasted for 40-50 minutes until tender and caramelised.
The feathery fronds are delicious chopped and added to salads or sauces for fish or fish soups.
The greenish-brown seeds have a mild, sweet aromatic flavour and are used to flavour Italian sausages and rustic breads. The ground seeds are used in spice rubs for meat and fish, in Indian curries and sometimes as an ingredient of Chinese five-spice powder. At lavish medieval feasts, fennel seeds coated in a thick layer of hard sugar were served to the guests to be chewed as a digestive aid. Fennel tea has the same effect and can be made by pouring a cup of boiling water onto a teaspoonful of bruised fennel seeds.
Fennel is great on its own, but also seems to have the amazing power of enhancing other flavours. It really brings out the flavour of pork, fish and lamb. I like to cook these in the oven on a bed of fennel - as it cooks it produces a glorious aroma and the finished dish tastes fantastic.
Do you have a special way of cooking fennel?