December 10, 2012
Fennel tends not to feature on most people’s top ten veg list. Even though it grows quite happily for us in Ireland we don’t have any tradition of cooking it so most people draw a blank (it’s famed anise aroma means it’s not the kind of veg you can throw into anything). It’s a shame because it has lots to offer.
Nutritionwise, it’s got high levels of potassium which is very good for your heart as well as a good mix of minerals like copper, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, vitamins like C and B-6 and folic acid, essential oils anethol, estragole, and fenchone (fenchyl acetate). anethol is especially useful as it has been found to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Phew!! Not bad for something that only has 31 calories per 100gr.
In the kitchen it is delicate and sweet and has that beautiful anise aroma which is brilliant for waking things up on the dinner plate especially at this time of year when the temptation to eat lots of heavy comforting food really takes over. It’s great for balancing those heavier wintery dishes – try the classic and oh so simple salad of shaved fennel with Parmesan, lemon and olive oil with baked potatoes for an easy supper that comforts but also leaves you able to walk around afterwards. Or how about a slab of chilli baked feta with a salad with this week’s red cabbage, some perfectly ripe Hass avocado, finely chopped fennel, toasted seeds and a smattering of chopped coriander? That’s tomorrow’s lunch sorted….
I think the trick with fennel is to cook it a lot or not at all. There aren’t half measures. Long slow(ish) cook renders it tender and sweet with a melt in the mouth consistency. That’s why I favour the oven. Favourite approaches are quartered or sliced with butter and lemon or for the last word in moreish try it finely sliced and layered with Parmesan and sour cream, topped with bread crumbs and baked til crispy and golden. Yum!!
Of course there isn’t always the time for that kind of cooking. Slicing it finely will get around that. For this a mandolin is your best friend. I got mine a few years ago in Arnotts and haven’t looked back. I love it!!!! In a mere 2 or 3 minutes a large bulb is reduced to a pile of wafer thin layers. A whole new level of precision. A lot of patience and a very sharp knife will do the same thing but that’s never been my strong point ….
With the fennel shaved it cooks to sweet perfection in about the same time it takes to boil pasta making it perfect for a quick dinner or supper. I pan-fry it with a little chilli til it was crispy round the edges then tossed it with toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta and a spritz of lemon juice. Very delicious but a cinch to make this dish will set you up perfectly for an evening of pre-Christmas pints. Enjoy!
Pasta with fennel, toasted pine nuts, feta and lemon
1 bulb fennel (about 350gr)
1/2 fresh red chilli finely chopped
A handful pine nuts
Put on the kettle for the pasta then shave the fennel with a mandolin or knife to the thickness of a business or loyalty card (roughly 1/2 mm). Heat some olive oil on the pan and add the fennel and chilli. Put on the pasta and heat another pan to toast the pine nuts. Add the nuts to the pan and toast until stating to turn golden then take off the heat and cool down when. Remember to keep tossing the fennel so it cooks evenly and you can also add a generous pinch of crushed Maldon. When the pasta is done, drain it and set aside. The fennel should be ready at this stage – nice and soft and turning brown and crispy round the edges. Add the pasta to the fennel along with the pine nuts. Mix well adding a little more if you think it needs it. Now add the juice of the half lemon, the feta crumbled, lots of black pepper and the parsley. Mix again and serve immediately. Enjoy x