Brilliant bulb: Skye Gyngell reveals why we should all be fans of fennel

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

True fans of fennel love it sliced up raw in salad. But if you want to sweeten that aniseed hit, it roasts perfectly with meat or fish

Deliciously aniseedy in flavour, with a clean, clear crunch, fennel is one of my very favourite vegetables. It grows wild in abundance throughout Italy, France and Spain. Cultivated – or "Florence" fennel – with its large celery-like stalks and spray of yellow flowers, is similar to the wild stuff, except that its base is swollen and forms a tight, compact, creamy-fleshed bulb. Fennel first appears in the spring, when the days start to warm up. I use it all the time, both cooked and raw. My personal preference is to eat it simply roasted with a little bit of dried chilli and olive oil. Its flavour mellows beautifully when cooked – wonderfully sweet with just a hint of aniseed left. Fennel pairs well with grilled fish as well as pork, and is also great par-boiled and tossed in pasta dishes, or just sliced and tossed through a salad of little radishes and peppery rocket.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Roast pork belly with roasted fennel

As a rich, sweet meat, pork has a natural affinity with the aniseed flavour of fennel, which cuts through it. We also often add some quickly blanched rainbow chard, dressed in olive oil. With about 50 minutes to go, start making the fennel (recipe below).

Serves 4

2kg/4lb pork belly, skin left on
50ml/2fl oz olive oil
Sea salt
1tbsp fennel seeds
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 fresh bay leaves
2 dried chillies
500ml/17fl oz white wine

Preheat the oven to 200C/400f/Gas6. Score the skin of the pork at regular intervals. Rub the olive oil into the flesh and season all over with sea salt and the fennel seeds. Place the pork, skin-side up, in a roasting tray and cook on the middle shelf for 45 minutes. The skin should start to colour and the crackling start to form. Remove from the oven and lift on to a platter while you scatter the vegetables, herbs and dried chilli into the roasting tray. Pour the wine on top of the vegetables then put the pork back on top, covering the dish tightly with foil. Lower the temperature to 160C/325F Gas3 and cook for two hours. By this time the pork will be meltingly tender, almost soft enough to eat with a spoon. Serve hot.

Roasted fennel

If you're not serving this with the pork, it's also a perfect marriage with any white fish, chicken, or – because it's at its best at room temperature – simply chopped and tossed in a salad with olives and tomatoes. And I'd be just as happy to eat it on its own.

Serves 4

4 fennel bulbs
1 dried red chilli, finely sliced
1/2tsp fennel seeds
The zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon
60ml/21/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Remove the tough outer layers of the fennel and cut into quarters lengthwise. Place the fennel in a bowl and crumble over the chilli, season with salt and pepper and toss through the fennel seeds. Squeeze over the lemon juice and zest and dress with the olive oil – toss well to combine. Place in a baking tray, cover with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven; roast for 30 minutes then remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes. Remove and serve.

Salad of rocket, cooked spinach and shaved fennel

I love this salad; it has all the things I find most delicious. Spinach well-dressed and served at room temperature is fantastic.

Serves 4

4 bunches of spinach
The zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon
80ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
100g/31/2oz grated Parmesan
Sea salt and black pepper
1 bulb of fennel
3 handfuls of rocket

Start by washing the spinach really well – it tends to hold a lot of dirt and so needs to be washed in several changes of water.

Place a large, heavy-based pan on top of the stove and add the spinach – don't bother to put in any water, as the water clinging to the leaves is enough to wilt and cook it. Once the spinach has just collapsed – two to three minutes – drain it in a colander and set aside to cool.

When it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water with your hands – important because the spinach will taste delicious only if properly seasoned and, for that, it must be dry. Place in a bowl and dress with the lemon zest, juice, olive oil, Parmesan, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Blend lightly and thoroughly with your fingertips.

Slice the outer layer from the fennel, then slice lengthwise as finely as possible. Now add the spinach and the rocket; taste and season with salt and pepper.

Serve at once: this salad should be eaten once dressed as it begins to taste tired quite quickly.

Sea bass with fennel purée

Fennel has a natural affinity with seafood – and this is a nice, gentle way of serving it – clean, light and just a little bit nutty. This purée is also lovely with roast chicken.

Serves 4

For the purée

3-4 fennel bulbs
40g/2oz unsalted butter
2tbsp mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
3tbsp crème fraîche
Sea salt and black pepper

Remove the tough outer skin of the fennel and roughly chop it. Now place it in a heavy-based pan and cover with cold water. Add a generous sprinkling of salt, place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat slightly and simmer until very tender. Drain in a colander and place the fennel in a blender – add the butter, olive oil and crème fraîche and purée until smooth. Season with a good pinch of salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Return to the saucepan and reheat gently. Serve alongside the fish.

For the fish

Allow 180g/6oz sea bass per person
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
35ml /11/2fl oz olive oil

Season the sea bass well on both sides and brush with olive oil. Place under a hot grill and cook, skin-side up, for four to five minutes until the skin is slightly blistering and the flesh is cooked through. Serve straight away, alongside the fennel purée.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer reveals where to find everything fennel-related...

Seeds: The Real Seed Catalogue ( www.realseed.co.uk) sells "Colossal" fennel and "Mantovano" spring-sowable fennel.

Spice: La Fromagerie (www.lafromagerie. co.uk) sells the distinct, Monti Sibillini fennel pollen, while Steenbergs (www.steenbergs.co.uk) sells organic fennel seed from Turkey.

Fennel salami: Wild fennel Cinta Senese salami from the Salumeria Toscana is made using meat from the rare Cinta Senese wild pigs mixed with wild fennel seeds. Available from www.savoria.co.uk.

Fennel tea: Goodness Direct (www.goodnessdirect.co.uk) sells fennel tea from six specialists, from pure fennel tea to an anise-carraway-fennel blend.

Further reading: Parsleys, Fennels, and Queen Anne's Lace by Barbara Perry Lawton (£20, Timber Press) is a gardener's introduction to the cultivation and history of this distinctive plant family.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen