I really like fennel when it’s been steamed. Its flesh quite quickly becomes soft and juicy, and though the aniseed flavour remains, it’s more subtle than when raw. I also find the cooking process makes the fennel particularly receptive to other flavours. Dressing it while still warm with peppery olive oil, diced chilli and the zest and juice of a lemon is extremely effective; the flavours are soaked up as the fennel cools, with the later addition of feta and almonds adding sharpness and savoury crunch respectively. You’ll reap the benefits of buying good peppery extra-virgin olive oil if you use it here.
This is a versatile side dish that requires very little hands-on cooking time, and can be left to sit for as long as you can resist it. Great when you’re looking for a mix of cold salads, or with salmon, trout and chicken.
- Yield: 6 Servings
- 800 g fennel bulbs
- ½ finely grated lemon juice and zest
- 1 mild red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
- 4 tablespoons peppery extra-virgin olive oil
- 20 g almonds, skin on, lightly crushed
- 76 g feta cheese
- Sea salt
- Trim the base and tops off the fennel bulbs, reserving any feathery fronds for later, then separate the layers of fennel. Cut each of these in half or thirds from root to tip, so that they’re never wider than 4–5 cm. Spread the fennel segments over the base of a steaming basket, preferably in one layer (if you have stacking baskets, that’s ideal). Set it over a pan of boiling water and steam for around 5–6 minutes, or until the fennel is tender and translucent.
- Tip the cooked fennel into a fairly flat serving dish or bowl. Immediately sprinkle it with the lemon zest, chilli and a good pinch of salt. Add the lemon juice and oil and mix well, then let it sit and cool to room temperature for 30 minutes, during which time the fennel will soak up some of the dressing and the flavours will mingle.
- Later, add half the reserved fennel fronds, half the crushed almonds and crumble in half of the feta. Mix, then sprinkle the remaining fronds, almonds and feta over the top. Ensure everyone takes a spoonful or two of dressing from the bottom of the bowl.