I remember owning a plastic food set as a child. It had a whole range of vegetables in bright and wonderful colours. It even had a whole chicken, come to think of it. One vegetable that confused me for years, however, was the fennel. Yes. There was a fennel in a kids’ vegetable set. Out of all the vegetables that could have possibly been included in the selection – one bright spark somewhere along the thought process decided that fennel was a suitable option!
Well I spent my entire childhood thinking it was a particularly sprouty onion. And it wasn’t until later on – maybe very early teens – that I remember tasting it for the first time (an actual fennel, not the plastic one), and realising after all those years what the strange vegetable in my play-set was. Now my first experience of fennel wasn’t a good one. I think it was baked with other veggies, and I just remember it tasting overwhelmingly aniseed-y. For about ten years after that experience, I avoided it entirely.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I gave it another shot. My mum – and I’m not sure where she got the idea to do this – removed the leafy sprouty bits (very scientific term there, Harry) from the top, sliced it very finely length ways, and sauteed the slices in a knob of butter for around 10 minutes, or until soft and turning golden brown around the edges. I was hesitant to try it at first, but thank goodness I did, because it is now one of my FAVOURITE vegetables! It has a very mild taste of aniseed, but no way near enough to put me off. The gentle sautéing over a medium heat actually gives the slices a pleasant sweetness. I hate aniseed-y spirits like Sambuca and Jaeger, but LOVE fennel cooked like this.
Today, when I decided to whip up a scrummy bowl of the stuff, I found that I had some leftover feta in the fridge, and thought that the saltiness of the cheese would beautifully complement the sweetness of the fennel. And that, it did! A sprinkle of fresh black pepper on top and Bob’s your uncle! So if, like me, you were a anti-fennelist, I urge you to give this a go! It is truly delicious! Serve with anything you like really – meat, fish, quiche…..whatever takes your fancy! Enjoy!
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