A few years ago, I was getting my hair done on Brunswick Street. A girl came in to make an appointment, munching away on something crunchy (which I presumed was an apple). When she left, the hairdresser exclaimed, “Did you see what she was eating?? FENNEL!! Weird”.
And weird it was. Fennel is one of those ingredients I always see – be it at the market or growing in my neighbour’s garden – but I never know what to do with it. What should I be looking for? And how the heck do I prepare it??
A quick poll of the Food Daily office revealed there’s more to this humble bulb than meets the eye (and uncovered a surprising number of fennel lovers in the office).
Choosing and preparing your fennel
Look for fennel with nice, firm white bulbs and lovely green fronds. Any with splits or discoloration should be left on the shelf (a little bit of browning around the root is OK). Store it in a plastic bag in your vegetable crisper.
Chop off the stalks and fronds (reserve these – you can use them in dips or salads) and remove the tough outer layer from the bulb. Halve and rinse your bulbs, then slice, dice, wedge, or leave whole.
Pickled: with oranges, white wine vinegar, chilli flakes and mustard seeds
Soup: with roasted tomatoes, onion and thyme
Salad: with apple and blue cheese dressing
Slaw: with cabbage, capers, anchovies, parsley, and a lemon yoghurt dressing
Pasta: with sardines, parsley, capers and pine nuts
Pie: fish with smoked paprika, peppers, tomato and basil
Stew: with pork, potatoes and red onion
Relish: with onion, mustard, chilli, lemon and parsley
Risotto: with farro and caramelised apples
Braise: with polenta
Fry: pork and fennel sausages
Dip: roasted and smashed with white beans and garlic
Roast: with potato, pumpkin, carrot and leek
Cous cous: with shaved raw fennel
Stock: simmered with onion, leek, mushroom, tomatoes and bay leaves
Caramelise: and serve with goat’s cheese
Bread: diced and baked into bread
Grill: with lemon and pecorino
Gratin: with a basic Gruyere cheese sauce
Grate: with potato and herbs for latkes
Stuff: into a free range chicken with quinoa, onion, celery then roasted
Blitz: into a salsa verde with parsley, capers and anchovies
Thinly sliced: on toasted sourdough with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and rosemary for bruschetta
Palate cleanse: Frozen thin slices with a sugar syrup glaze (Thanks again Matt Wilkinson)
Pesto: with pine nuts, parmesan and garlic
Shave: into a salad of rocket and orange segments
Ragu: slow cook with pork
Juice: add to any juice combination (try apple and rosemary)
Tea: simmer with some lemon zest and honey, chill and serve with mint
Dressing: high-speed blend with extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and wholegrain mustard
Oil: Simmer with some orange zest and crushed coriander seeds and strain
Mash: into a hash brown
Puree: steamed fennel as a bed for fish or pork
Vichyssoise: French soup with leek, potato, and buttermilk
Stir fry: with cabbage, cumin seeds, sesame seeds and garam masala
Poach: with fish and dill in parchment paper
Flatbread: baked onto flatbread with olive tapenade, feta and thyme
Pate: blitz with mushrooms, cream cheese, lemon zest and thyme
Pizza: with prosciutto, thin slices of apple, capers and ricotta
Cake: lightly cooked and stirred through a pistachio, star anise cake batter
Sprinkle: sliced fronds over muesli for a zesty breakfast
Salad: with prosciutto, walnuts, rocket and mandarin segments
While I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to stock up on fennel as an au naturel afternoon snack, I will definitely try my hand at blitzing, grilling, grating and mashing.