Sunday 1 April 2012

Fabulous Fennel

I love Fennel.  I know it is meant to be a bit of a "love it, or hate it" vegetable, but I just think it is an acquired taste. But I don't think I really understood fennel until a late age. Now I think is so super versatile and clean and fresh, I just can't wait for it to appear in early summer.  I love it raw, sliced as thinly as possible and dressed with lemon juice, peppery extra virgin olive oil and a little salt. I love it baked until melting tender with loads of Parmesan cheese.  I love it roasted or barbecued until caramelised and golden. I love it's seeds in curries, fish stews, sausages and marinades.  I love its fronds, stuffed into the cavity of a fish before roasting.  And of all the herb teas, fennel is my favourite. Strangely enough though, I hate alcohol with a fennel or Anise flavour. Pernod, Raki, Ouzo, Pastis - Yuk!  And it is not like me to turn down a drink.

What I particularly love about fennel is it's ability to cut the richness of fatty fish, pork or sausages.  Hugh, the other half, is hugely fond of Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes, a book which he permanently has by his bedside and It was he who first requested this sausage dish with braised fennel, waxy potatoes and lemon.  It is a spring like dish, hearty enough to stand up to chilly evening, yet refreshing, zesty and clean. Just what you need to wake you up after a winter of heavy stews and casseroles.  The perfect transition from Winter to Spring. The Luganega sausages are hard to come by and very expensive if you ever should, but I discovered some fantastic Italian sausages at our local butchers Robert Edwards which work very well.  They are quite spicy, which is really nice but not very fennely, so I add fresh fennel and fennel seeds to my recipe. Waxy potatoes are not as popular in England as in the continent.  We seem to prefer our potatoes more floury.  Look out for Charlotte, Anya, Ratte or Pink Fir Apple Potatoes. The other thing I like about this recipe it is a one pot meal which means less washing up.  

The second recipe is from Simon Hopkinson's recent, brilliant and book "The Good Cook". Here the fennel is slow-roasted and the juices are whizzed up with the Parmesan at the end. The first time I made this recipe I was convinced it wouldn't work. I had never used Parmesan in this way, but it amalgamates with the fennel juices and results in a lovely creamy sauce, perfect with the braised fennel.

Two of my favourite fantastic fennel recipes - so even if you think you hate it, why not give it another go.

Fennel Sausages Braised with Lemony Potatoes and Bay Leaves
Adapted from Rick Stein.  The original recipe is more just like roast vegetables but I have added twice as much water to create more of a stew. You can finish this off in the slow-cooker if you like.  It makes a fabulous meal to great you after a hard days work.

450g/1lb luganega sausages (available from specialist Italian or
Continental grocers), or other nice meaty pork sausages.
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 heads of fennel, trimmed and cut into 4/6 wedges, depending on size, lengthways (save the fronds)
750g/1½lb small waxy potatoes, peeled and each cut into quarters
2 lemons, pared zest and juice
4 fresh bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper
240ml/8fl oz water

If necessary, twist the sausages into 7.5cm/3in lengths and separate them and then cut into individual sausages. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a 26cm/10in flame-proof casserole dish. Add the sausages and fry until nicely browned all over. Lift them onto a plate and set aside. Add some more oil and the fennel and fry until golden. Next add the garlic and the fennel seeds. Fry for a few minutes more. Stir in the potatoes, browned sausages, lemon zest and juice, bay leaves, ½ teaspoon salt and ten turns of the black pepper mill. Pour over the rest of the oil along with the water, cover tightly with the lid and bake for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Or cook for 4 hours on slow in the slow-cooker. Remove the lemon zest and Bay leaves. Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds.

Braised Fennel with Butter and Parmesan
Adapted from Simon Hopkinson. As I said, I am not a fan of Pastis so I miss that out and use extra Vermouth instead, but if you do not have any, white wine will work well instead. Delicious served on it's own or along side some roast lamb.   

750g/1½lb fennel bulbs, trimmed, halved, trimmings reserved
50g/1¾oz butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp dry vermouth or white wine
Splash Pastis (optional, alternatively add more dry vermouth)
60g/2oz Parmesan (or similar vegetarian hard cheese), grated, plus extra for serving
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.

Melt the butter in a casserole dish over a low heat. Place the fennel into the butter cut-side down, and scatter around the trimmings. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and increase the heat. Add the vermouth, Pastis or white wine. Cover with a sheet of foil loosely pressed down on the vegetables, and put the lid on top. Place into the oven to cook for 30 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and turn over the fennel. Return to the oven and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until very tender when poked with a small, sharp knife. Preheat the grill to high. Remove the fennel from the dish. Place in a warmed shallow oven-proof dish cut-side up, cover with foil and place in the oven while you make the sauce. Pour the trimmings and cooking juices through a fine sieve suspended over a small pan. Warm through and add 45g/1½oz of the Parmesan. Blend with a hand blender until smooth and creamy (about the consistency of pouring cream). Pour the mixture over the fennel and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Place under the grill and cook until the surface is pale golden-brown and slightly bubbling around the edges.


  1. my best friend is not a fan of fennel, but these dishes look good enough to convert her! especially love the second braised fennel dish, clean simple and shwing off the flavours of fennel.


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