The Delights of Fennel
I am slightly infatuated with the aniseed flavour of fennel (almost as much as I am with Sambuca) but have only recently begun cooking with it. The love affair began when I realised fennel seeds went really well with roast vegetables, then I started adding the seeds to tomato sauces, BBQ sauces, breads and fish dishes. Now I use the real thing to stuff a chicken with lemon, fry in butter and roast with potatoes, but I am still experimenting. I have yet to breadcrumb fennel or make a gratin out of it…but these are forthcoming. Fennel is much loved in Italy, where they often eat it raw after a meal to clean the palate and aid digestion. On the Greek islands, it is often boiled and eaten with olive oil and lemon juice.
I remember being at a restaurant with my mum when I was a lot younger. We ordered bread to start, with tomato sauce and some other accompaniments. The flavour of the tomato sauce was like something I had never tried before and as the chef wouldn’t divulge his secret – It was my mission to discover it for myself. I think it was fennel that gave it the mellowed aniseed flavour, which was sublime. Either fry the seeds with softened onions before adding the tomatoes to a sauce or fry sliced fennel in a little butter before adding the tomato, both are lovely.
This recipe works as a great side dish to steak, fish or roast chicken. You could even serve them with a rich tomato sauce and green pesto as a rustic vegetarian starter.
Ingredients – serves 4 as a side dish
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large potatoes, such as Sebago, King Edward or other large, waxy potatoes – scrubbed and cut into wedges. I like to leave the skin on.
- 4 baby fennel bulbs, washed and halved or quartered (fronds reserved)
- 1 whole garlic bulb, cut through the middle
- 1 lemon, cut into about 8 thin wedges
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes (if you like a bit of spice)
Preheat the oven to 180°C and when up to temperature, heat the oil in a roasting tray.
Mix together all ingredients, take out the tray and add them to it, giving it a mix to coat.
Season well and roast until golden (takes about 40 – 50 minutes). You may need to take them out a few times whilst they cook, just to mix them and ensure no edges burn.
Use the reserved fennel fronds to scatter on top as you serve them.