This first-class vegie is much loved for its crunch and aniseed aroma and flavour.
Fennel is one of the great survivors. In 490BC the Greeks and Persians clashed at the battle of Marathon, the placename meaning “a plain with fennels”. The Greeks subsequently established the sports event at this place and the Greek word for fennel arathon. The perennial plant, indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, is seen worldwide, happily naturalised and growing wild, giving off its distinctive aniseed aroma. Wild fennel is now considered an invasive species and a weed in Australia and the United States. The bulb-like stem base from a cultivar group, Florence fennel, is most familiar for culinary purposes, but its seeds and flowers are also widely used. Fennel is one of three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe, and it is used medicinally to aid digestion. Fennel is generally available year-round, but its peak season is autumn and winter.
Selection and handling: Select bulbs which feel crisp — the size depends on intended use. Smaller bulbs are better for salads, larger ones for longer cooking. Preparation usually involves trimming stalks close to the bulb and halving it lengthways. If the bulb is large, remove the core by cutting it out in a V-section. If using fennel raw, sprinkle it with lemon juice after cutting, to prevent discolouration. The leaves can be kept for garnish or used as a herb, and the stalks can be added to chicken stock, especially good for use in Asian or Middle Eastern recipes.
Fennel goes with: fish, garlic, tomatoes, chicken, rocket, watercress, walnuts, lemons, oranges, olives, Parmesan and goat’s cheese.
Fennel Speltotto with Prawns and Chorizo
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 bulbs (about 500g) fennel, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced lengthways
- 2-3 cloves smoked garlic, crushed
- 1 chorizo (about 140g) cut into 6mm dice
- 500g medium green prawns, shelled to tail and deveined
- 500g pearled spelt
- 5 cups chicken stock (or use 4 cups stock and 1 cup water)
- 60g butter
- ¼ cup thinly sliced preserved lemon rind, cut into thin strips
- Parmesan, shaved, to serve
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy-based deep frying pan. Add fennel and stir over a medium heat for 3 minutes, to just soften. Add garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes more, until fennel begins to just colour. Remove mixture from pan to a bowl. Add chorizo to pan and stir over a high heat until just browned. Add prawns and stir for 2 minutes, until just cooked. Remove from pan and add to fennel mixture. Reduce heat to medium. (At this stage the base of your pan will be quite crusty — don’t worry, it will all lift and add flavour to the spelt as it cooks.) Heat stock in a saucepan until simmering. Add remaining tablespoon of oil and the spelt to pan. Stir for 1 minute, until grains are glossy. Add hot stock and stir. Cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the moisture is almost totally absorbed and the grains are soft. Stir in the butter, then return fennel mixture to pan. Stir, then add preserved lemon. Serve, garnished with shaved Parmesan.
Carmalised Fennel and Goats Cheese Tart
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1kg trimmed fennel, cut into 2cm dice
- 2 tablespoons mild honey
- Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup currants
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 450g plain soft goats cheese
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 50g crushed, roasted walnuts
- 300 g purchased ready-rolled sour cream shortcrust pastry
To caramelise fennel:
Heat oil in a deep, heavy-based frying pan over a medium temperature. Add fennel, stir to coat with oil, then cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add honey and stir until golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon rind and juice. The mixture can be refrigerated at this stage, and kept for several days.
Filling: Combine currants and lemon juice and microwave or heat in a small saucepan for 1 minute. Cool. Combine goats cheese, shallot, garlic and eggs in a bowl. Use either a 28cm x 20cm rectangular or 23cm square tart tin with removable base. Line with pastry, making sure it rises slightly above edge of tin to allow for shrinkage during cooking. Press half the walnuts into pastry base. Refrigerate 15 minutes, to rest pastry. Preheat oven to 180°C. Prick pastry with a fork, line with baking paper and fill tart with beans or rice, or pastry baking weights. Bake blind 20 minutes, until edges of pastry are beginning to colour. Remove paper and weights and return to oven for 15-20 minutes, until base is dry and beginning to colour. Drain currants, carefully stir into cheese mixture and spread this over base of tart. Spread caramelised fennel over cheese (you may only use half, reserve remainder for another recipe). Sprinkle remaining walnuts over, then return tart to oven. Cook 35–40 minutes, until filling is fairly set. Remove from oven and rest at room temperature until required.
Fennel and Potato Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for bread
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
- 750g floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 750g fennel, trimmed and diced (reserve a few of the green leafy tops for garnish)
- 1 litre chicken stock
- Plain yoghurt, crème fraiche or sour cream
- Sumac, for dusting
- Smoked sea salt
- Grilled Turkish bread
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a deep, heavy-based pot over medium temperature. Add black pepper and shallots, stir, then add potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add fennel and stock to barely cover vegetables (add a little water if required). Cook, partly covered, over a medium heat for 25 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Remove pan from heat and using a blending wand, puree contents of pan, taking care not to splash the hot liquid. Alternatively, transfer the mixture, in batches, to a blender and process until smooth. Return to pan until required. Warm gently to serve, with a spoonful of yoghurt, crème fraiche or sour cream and a dusting of sumac and smoked sea salt. Garnish with reserved fennel leaves.
Grilled Turkish bread: Split a loaf of Turkish bread lengthways through the centre. Place, crust up, on a grill tray and toast. Turn and brush cut surfaces with 1/3 cup olive oil mixed with a crushed clove of garlic and ½ teaspoon smoked sea salt. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sumac and grill until browned and crisp. Cut into fingers to serve, at room temperature.
Shaved Fennel, Red Onion and Quail Egg Salad
- 1 lemon
- 2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and halved
- 1 red onion, peeled and halved
- 12 quail eggs, boiled, peeled and halved
- ¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 2-3 tablespoons milk
Squeeze lemon juice into salad bowl. Shave fennel in food processor or use a very sharp knife. Add to lemon juice and and combine. Shave onion in the same way and add to fennel. Add quail eggs and sprinkle sesame seeds over. Combine dressing ingredients and serve separately with salad.
Note: This is good with smoked trout, fresh crusty bread and butter.