First of all, unfortunately I spilled tea onto my computer whilst writing this piece 2 / 3 weeks ago and therefore hadn't been able to blog! If we happen to have followers (myself and my fellow pea - who's now back in London!) many apologies!
Now onto Fennel...
There are many flavors that people either LOVE it or HATE it. Fennel is one of those. Its highly aromatic anise-like flavor, to some, can be over-powering. As for me, fennel is a fairly recent discovery, and I just can't get enough of it. So here are three ways of using this incredible vegetable.
Fennel will be the star of the shows in two of the recipes - fennel crumble and fennel tarte tatin. Despite the dessert-nature of their names, they are actually savoury dishes that can be served as either simple main courses or side dishes.
And in the case of roasted pepper and ricotta dip (with a hint of fennel), the fennel gives the sweet pepper and creamy ricotta a herbal kick.
I use rosemary in all of the recipes below, but thyme works equally well - depending on your preference, or simply what you have in the fridge!
A side note on fennel, if you don't already know, it is one of the key ingredients in Absinthe (No - thanks!), and in some occasion, a flavoring agent in Gin.
2 Tbsp of leaves only, plus 3 sprigs of rosemary (see tips for alternative)
1 Tbsp olive oil
For the crumble:
150g flour 100g chilled butter, cubed
50 g cheddar or other hard cheeses, grated (preferably a sharp and crunchy one, such as Tickler)
25g pine nuts (optional)salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, add 3 sprigs of rosemary and the fennel into the pan. Season with small pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until slightly softened and the fennel slices are slightly golden brown on the outside - this takes about 10 minutes.
3. To make the crumble, mix the flour, butter and cheddar with salt and pepper to taste
4. Remove the rosemary sprigs. Line a baking tray / casserole dish with the fennel. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp of rosemary leave over the fennel.
5. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the fennel and finally sprinkle the pine nuts on the crumble.6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 - 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.
1. Small pinch of salt in both the fennel and the crumble dough will be sufficient, as the cheddar itself is quite salty.
2. Add a small red onion to the recipe to give this dish a sweet and colorful kick. To do this, slice the red onion thinly and cook them along with the fennel in step 1.
2. Fennel Tarte Tatin
Like any tarte tatin, a golden caramelized topping is a must. I am combining the juice from the roasted vegetables with sugar to give the caramel extra flavours. As for the puff pastry, I am using Valentine Warner's rough puff pastry . Cut into wedges and this makes a great and pretty party food.
2 small to medium bulb fennels - washed, trimmed and each cut into 4 equal pieces
2 red and/or orange bell peppers, washed, halved and membrane discarded
2 small red onions, cut into rings
1 - 2 Tbsp olive oil
3 - 4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves and sprigs separated
2 Tbsp caster sugarsalt and pepper
150g soft goat's cheese with rind, half of which cut into discs, the remainder crumbled
A 20cm baking tin
1. Lightly grease a baking tray with olive oil. Line the baking tray with the onion rings (be careful not to break them apart). Lightly rub the top of the onion rings with olive oil, then add the fennel pieces and rosemary leaves and sprigs on top. Lightly rub the top of the fennel pieces with olive oil. Add Drizzle with 1 Tbsp of oil oil and season with salt and black pepper. Add the bell peppers on top and drizzle another Tbsp of olive oil on the vegetables.
2. Roast the vegetables in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes or until the fennel pieces are just soft enough to poke through.
3. Remove the rosemary sprigs and set the vegetables aside in a dish, carefully not to break apart the onion rings and try not to spoon out any juice (reserved for making the caramel in step 5). Half the pepper halves so that you have a total of 8 pieces of roasted peppers.
4. Preheat oven to 200C. Lightly grease the baking tin with butter.
5. Making the caramel: Pour four Tbsp of the juice of the vegetables from the roasting tin in to a small saucepan (if you don't have enough juice from the vegetables, replace it with water). Heat this along with 2 Tbsp of sugar at high heat. Bring to the boil and cook without stirring, until golden brown and of honey consistency. Transfer the caramel into the greased baking tin. Give it a swirl to ensure the baking tin is evenly coated by the caramel.
6. Arrange the fennel pieces directly into the pan, gaps between fennel pieces with the roasted peppers. Then arrange the goat's cheese disc evenly on top (it doesn't have to cover the entire surface), followed by the onion rings, which ideally should cover the entire surface.
7. Roll out the pastry to about 5mm thick. Cut out a circle slightly larger than the baking tin.
8. Put the pastry on top of the baking tin. Tuck the edge in around the vegetables. Prick the pastry with a fork several times (to allow steam from the hot vegetables come through).
9. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and evenly cooked through.
10. Take the tarte tatin out of the oven and let it cool for 3 - 5 minutes, then carefully turn this out onto a plate.
11. Sprinkle the crumbled goat's cheese on top, and season with freshly cracked black pepper before serving.
3. Roasted pepper and ricotta dip (with a hint of fennel)
I must admit the picture doesn't look at all appetizing and definitely doesn't do the dip any justice. I blame it on the color of the peppers I used - orange and yellow. I think red, orange or a combination of the two would work best in this recipe, but this is entirely upto you. Fennel is not the main ingredient here, but it gives the dip a herbal kick. You can easily reduce the amount of fennel by replacing it with pepper (see TIPS) - if you are not yet accustomed to the taste of it.
4 red and/or orange peppers
1 small red onion
1 small fennel bulb, outer leaves removed, and feathery tops removed
1 Tbsp of olive oil5 sprigs of rosemary, leaves and stalks separated
2 heaped Tbsp of ricotta (see TIPS for alternatives)
2 Tbsp of sunflower seeds or pine nuts - toasted (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
2. Cut the peppers into quarters. Wash and remove the seeds and membranes. Cut the red onion into thick rings.Roast the peppers and onion rings along with leaves and stalks of 3 sprigs of rosemary in the oven until the pepper skin blisters and the fleshes of the peppers and the onion rings are soft. This takes about 20 - 25 minutes.
3. In the mean time, slice the fennel into thick slices. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. When sizzling hot, add the leaves and stalk of 2 sprigs of rosemary along with the fennel slices into the pan. Cook until the fennel slices are soften, approximately 15 minutes (depends on the thickness of the slices).
4. Remove the skin of the peppers - once the pepper cools the skin should peel away from the peppers easily. If the skin is not darkened or burnt, you can also leave it on.
5. Remove the stalks of the rosemary. Add the fennel slices, skinned peppers and rosemary leaves along with 2 heaped Tbsp of ricotta and salt and pepper (to taste) in the blender. Blend the mixture until smooth and well mixed.
6. Spoon the dip into a mixing bowl and top this with toasted sunflower seeds, if desired.
7. Serve with pitta bread / tortilla chips / or bread sticks.