Without doubt, my favourite vegetable is fennel. I love that it is available only for a short season, which I look forward to all summer. It’s delicious on hot winter days as a crunchy salad – sliced thinly with segmented oranges (also in season now) and sprinkled with salt, pepper and olive oil. Try it, you’ll be amazed at how scrummy this is. On cold winter days it is fantastic as a stew with potatoes and tomatoes, or cooked with almonds and cardomon and blended into a creamy soup. Or, as Paul recently invented: fennel and sweet potato soup. Wow, we made that last week and were delighted with the result. Interesting how things which are growing in the same season are often perfect combinations.
Today is mizzly, misty and jolly cold and called for something warmer than my usual salad lunch, so I harvested a few bulbs and made this:
Cut fennel bulbs into quarters (or sixths if very fat). Cut potatoes into sixths lengthwise.
Fry in quite a lot of olive oil for a while to get some brown edges and then add whole garlic cloves, strips of lemon peel and a handful of sundried tomatoes. Add a little water to soften, as this is absorbed, add a little more.
Stir often. Be gentle. You are aiming at an unctuous sauce with bits of dissolving potato and browned, soft fennel. It takes a while. Add lots of chopped flat parsley, some fresh tomatoes if you have them and generous squeeze of lemon juice.
This is definitely the Best Stew Ever! Serve with fresh real bread to mop up the juices.
I enjoyed a nice Pecan Stream Shiraz, recommended by friendly Meander Fine Wines just down the road in Lion’s River, with lunch. Perfect as the mist swirled outside.
I have almost an entire bed in my garden devoted to cultivating fennel. Interestingly, according to all my companion planting guides, most other vegetables dislike growing near fennel – silly veg. Everything about fennel is beautiful – the delicate feathery fronds, the fat bulbs, the scent, the sweet aniseed flavour when raw, the crunch, the pale green, the versatility, the yellow flowerheads (so pretty in salads), the fragrant seeds with many uses.
I share my passion with chef and author Nadine Abensur, who wrote my very favorite cookbook ever – The Cranks Bible – a timeless collection of vegetarian recipes. If you ever see this book, buy it. And get hold of some fennel soon before the season is over.
If you also love fennel and would like more recipes, please ask.