Tuesday, June 05, 2007

F is for Fennel


"There's fennel for you.."
We celebrated our arrival at F with a Feast of Flattery. Fennel was our next vegetable companion and the timing was perfect. In Shakespeare's time, fennel was a symbol of flattery. The bright green, delicate leaves that top the fennel wilt very quickly, supposedly like the attentions of a flatterer. The reason for our feast was a visit by a very special guest, Leo, who is Alex and Freddie's big brother. Now unlike his Dad and Stepmum, Leo has a proper twenty-something social life with all sorts of exciting things going on. So when he comes across London to see us it is a treat and a cause for celebration. Naturally, we want to impress him with a beautiful meal. So we went into overdrive with the Fennel.
First off was Pear, Fennel and Parmesan salad which is a combination of flavours that I have tasted several times before. Note the order of Pear, then Fennel in the recipe title. This is a cloak and dagger recipe. I wasn't kidding myself that Freddie would immediately like the very adult taste of fennel which is a cross between mild aniseed and celery. I was hoping that the taste of pear, which Freddie loves, would wrap itself around the Fennel, softening and sweetening some of that strong anise flavour. There is an added benefit of combining the pear with fennel. When sliced thinly and covered with olive oil and parmesan, they look very similar. This hampers Freddie's ability to pick out the offending veg and avoid eating it. This wasn't so much a recipe, more a defence strategy.

Fennel, Pear and Parmesan
1 ripe pear
Half a bulb of Fennel
2oz of freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Core the pear and thinly slice it lengthways. Cut off the stalk and base of the Fennel and cut in half. Slice thinly lengthways. Mix them together on a plate. Add a splash of olive oil, a twist of ground pepper and the grated Parmesan cheese. Carefully mix it together to serve.

With this recipe you can alter the amount of fennel to pear. With Freddie, I wanted the pear to help lure him into tasting and enjoying the fennel. Yet more flattery. He gave this dish a respectable 7 out of ten.

The Feast of Flattery continued and I think it was working its magic on Leo. He has always been a joy to cook for. He was slightly thrown by the rather bizarre practice of me photographing the food before it is eaten. The children sit in their places, in a near-hysterical state of hunger and I stand on the table in a pair of slippers with my camera, attempting to capture the best angle of each dish. I call for props, bowls of fruit, attractive place mats and demand that piles of homework are removed. In the end there is normally a revolt, led by Chris who pulls me to my senses, takes my hand to help me safely off my kitchen pedestal and we start eating. In years gone by children waited for grace to be said before picking up their forks. In our house, they are waiting for their mother to get off the table. This is the least enjoyable aspect of blogging.
Our second Fennel dish was roasted with emmental cheese. This is simple and a blatant attempt to use the flavour of emmental, much loved by Freddie, to attract him to Fennel. And I am ashamed to admit that it worked. He gave this recipe a confident eight out of ten.
Roasted Fennel with Emmental cheese.

Two fennel bulbs
Two tablespoons olive oil
Four tablespoons finely grated emmental cheese
Salt and pepper to season
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Heat oven to 180.C
Get a baking dish and very lightly oil it. Cut off the stalk and stump of the Fennel and then slice it in half vertically. With each half, slice it into quarters. Put in the baking tray, add the rest of the olive oil, chopped garlic and salt and pepper. Cover the baking tray with a loose foil lid and cook for about 30 minutes. Stir the mixture with a spatula half way through. When the 30 mins is up, take off the foil lid, sprinkle and mix over the emmental cheese and put back in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Check to make sure the cheese doesn't burn. It should be golden brown.

The fennel flattery concluded with Chicken baked with Fennel.
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  1. It's even worse when you start taking photos in restaurants - it's not just the embarrassment of your family, there's also the sarky comments from waitresses ... but that's food blogging for you!


  2. I have some fennel growing in my garden but I have never been adventurous enough to try cooking with it. You have now inspired me again, so thank you.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  3. I'd like to continue the fennel flattery by saying that it is currently my favourite vegetable. I love it braised in a little butter and stock.

  4. Wendy - you are right. The simpler the better with Fennel.
    I love it. I adore it with pear. Alex my daughter has become a fennel-fan. She thinks it is delicious.

  5. Mmmmmm! braised fennel - yum. Your fennel recipes are superb!!! The perfect veg with a pan fried trout in my opinion. I'm growing Florence fennel in the veg garden this year, at the moment they are miniature fennel plants about 5cm high. I also grow herb fennel (it doesn't make the big bulbs) and comes in bright green and bronze. The bronze fennel grows to about 2m and is a fantastic plant in the flower border. All the feathery leaves are edible - and perfect with fish or seafood salads.
    Well done Freddie and family - you're true vegetable gourmets!

  6. A simply sauteed fennel is wonderful too, perhaps next to a piece of grilled fish. Heat some extra-virgin olive oil in a pan over high heat. Add thinly-sliced fennel and toss occasionaly until it's golden. Then reduce the heat to very low, pour a bit of white wine or Vemouth into the pan, cover it and continue cooking until the fennel is cooked through.

  7. Anonymous4:38 PM

    I love your description of standing on the table, photographing the food, while the diners wait impatiently. So funny!

    Jen M. in Seattle

  8. Charlotte Wathey7:33 PM

    Wow Freddie! I am so impressed. So far I could have eaten anything you tried (except perhaps the Daikon), but with fennel you've stumped me. I know I should like it and I'm married to a man who adores it, but not even he after 12 years of marriage has been able to persuade me of its joys. I shall try your recipes and see if I can convince myself.
    Charlotte (Eleanor's mum)

  9. That's a lot of fennel in one meal.

    We had lots of fennel growing in the garden when I was growing up but whilst my mother used to use the fronds quite a bit (mainly with fish) we never dug it up for the bulb. So I was well into adulthood before I discovered fennel and although I like it a lot it's still not a vegetable I automatically turn to in the greengrocer - I think it's because it's one I really have to think about if that makes any sense.

  10. Well it sounds like the meal was appreciated, even if there was a bit of a wait! We have that wait in this house too, luckily Graham doesn't complain about the luckwarm food he is now served!

  11. TopVeg3:14 PM

    GBVC has inspired TopVeg to try growing some Fennel!


  12. I am not sure I even knew what fennel was when I was Freddie's age (not to mention eddoe and edamame).

    Freddie, you're a lucky kid to have such good food cooked for you (even though you might not think so sometimes). :-)

  13. Hi Charlotte and Freddie

    No idea if you got my email, but I have a lovely fennel recipe on my Blog, braised in orange with mackerel. I LOVE fennel!


  14. How funny! We're obviously all mad! It's bad when your 5 year old son asks if you want to take a picture of his breakfast cereal bowl to put on your blog... Do we really photograph food that much??


We always love to read your comments - thank you