This is the first of what I hope to be a series of what do with (insert seasonal fruit/vegetable). I love fennel. I didn’t get acquainted with the vegetable until I was an adult working in the Italian state school system. I’m telling you, those little kindergarteners eat better than I do now! Fennel isn’t big in Australia, but it’s liquorice flavour and gorgeous crunchiness make it perfect for salads. It’s even better slow roasted.
So what’s the point of this post series? One of the first things you notice about living in rural destinations is that seasonality means something, especially in Italy. You can’t just decide one day that you want figs when it isn’t fig season. It can be really annoying or you can learn to love and live with seasonality. Don’t worry I’m here to help!
Fennel is everywhere in the autumn months. It’s cheap, delicious and a great source of vitamin c. To help you give the veg a whirl, here are 3 great ways to use fennel.
nectarine, fennel and goat’s cheese salad
The sweetness of the nectarine is paradise in this salad. Pair it with a grilled chicken breast and a dry riesling and you have dinner in minutes.
2 nectarines, finely sliced
1 fennel, finely sliced
handful of mint, torn
handful of almonds, toasted and finely chopped
as much goat’s cheese as you can handle
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
juice of 1/2 lemon
Throw all the ingredients for the dressing into a jar, season to taste and pour over the salad.
braised fennel hearts
Meaty and delicious, fennel prepared like this works great as main on its own with plenty of Italian bread to sop up the juices. And maybe a glass of vermouth or three.
2 fennels, quartered
a knob of butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
a pinch of fennel seeds
1/2 glass dry white wine
Preheat oven to 180°c. Place the fennel quarters in a baking dish with the fennel seeds and a drizzle of oil. Season to taste. Roast for 10 minutes. Add the white wine, cover with foil and roast for a further 15-20 minutes or until the fennel is tender. Remove the fennel and keep warm. Add the butter to the pan juices and reduce on the stove for a thick and luscious sauce.
candied fennel and lemon semolina cake
Oh, I know this one makes you nervous, but fennel is one of the few vegetables that works perfectly in desserts (you can keep your beetroot brownies, thank you). With the lemon, it’s heaven on this crumbly party cake.
1 small fennel bulb, sliced on a mandolin
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 lemon zest strips, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
125g unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
1 cup caster sugar
2/3 cup semolina
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 cup milk
Blanche the fennel in boiling water. Drain and set aside. Place the sugar, water, zest, and fennel seeds in saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add fennel slices and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender and syrupy. Arrange fennel slices decoratively in the bottom of a greased 20cm round springform cake pan lined base and side with baking paper. Pour 1/3 cup of the syrup over the fennel.
For the semolina cake, preheat oven to 180°C. Beat butter, lemon rind and sugar on high speed in your electric mixer until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Stir in semolina, flour and milk. Pour into your pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.