Food and Drink

   

In Season: Fennel

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An Italian favourite, fennel has seen a recent popularity boom in modern cuisine. Although more recently developed varieties see it available through to summer, its traditional season is late winter to early spring.

Sometimes known as Florence fennel, to distinguish it from the herb often seen growing wild at the side of the road or on vacant blocks, it has a delicate aniseed flavour, making it an ideal accompaniment for fish, chicken and pork. Fennel can be an interesting starter course — sliced thinly; raw it’s a great salad ingredient.

To prepare, simply remove any bruised outer layers, trim the base and the stems. The feathery leaves can be kept as a garnish, or chopped and added to the finished dish. Quarter the bulbs and, if they are large, you can cut out the wedge shaped core as you would a cabbage.

To cook, simply simmer in salted water until just tender and drain well before baking in a sauce. Coat it in white cheese sauce, top it with a mixture of breadcrumbs parmesan and butter and then bake until it’s soft in a hot oven — delicious.

A rustic French dish involves layering on a bed of sliced carrots and onion, topped with tomatoes and covered with veal stock, before braising in the oven. Another baked dish from the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy involves coating blanched fennel with a mixture of cream and grated parmesan until golden and bubbling.

To use raw in a salad slice the fennel bulbs very thinly and steep them in iced water for 30 minutes or so to crisp up. Try experimenting with the salad — ingredients that go well together include: tomatoes, walnuts, goat cheese, garlic, orange, almonds, capers, radicchio, rocket, watercress, and parmesan. To finish the salad just add a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, lemon and/or orange juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.


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