(Doesn’t that just make you want to hum Funiculì, Funiculà?)
The first time I met this bulbous vegetable, I wasn’t impressed by the aniseed flavour. I don’t like licorice, ouzo or sambuca either. Conversely, I love the flavour of star anise, and don’t mind fennel seed. Fennel seed or jintan manis is used a lot in Malaysian cuisine.
The next time I met the bulb, it had been thinly sliced and served with a very simple dressing of apple cider vinegar and olive oil. It was an immediate “about-face”: I was hooked.
There are two forms of fennel, Florence fennel (with a bulbous stem base) and wild fennel (without the bulb). Florence fennel is the cultivated variety that can be purchased in shops. Wild fennel is actually a weed in some parts of Australia. Apparently, fennel seed was brought over to Australia on the First Fleet. Home gardeners could try the less invasive Bronze fennel variety.
The stuff of myths and legends.
Fennel has certainly played a starring role in the story of how Prometheus stole fire from the Gods. This Greek myth states that he hid the fire in a giant fennel stalk.
Fennel was also one of the ingredients used to flavour the infamous Absinthe, otherwise known as The Green Fairy.
And I’m not sure how accurate this one is, but apparently Pliny noted that snakes ate fennel to restore their sight (after shedding their skin).
I remember coming across tips suggesting fennel tea as a way to help induce labour (both the mini-critics arrived waaay later than expected). However, while culinary fennel is quite safe, high doses of fennel oil should be avoided during pregnancy as it is an uterine stimulant.
Fennel seed - the fresh seeds are green. Grey seeds mean they are a bit too old.
And speaking of babies, anyone remember Gripe Water? I used to love the taste of it and would ask for some when the younger cousins were “treated”. One of the ingredients of gripe water is: you guessed it - fennel.
This study has found that a fennel seed emulsion may actually help reduce colic in babies.
And yes, I managed to find something risqué too! (I promise I’m not choosing the food based solely on this criteria) .Apparently fennel can help boost sexual desire. On a more mundane note, fennel is said to help with the digestive tract (bloating etc).
There’s an interesting culinary related Sydney Morning Herald article about the vegetable here.
Additional source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fennel
I usually make a salad with fennel, but it’s also really good in stir-fries (treat it like celery) and goes well with pork. In the October issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, I found a mussel, fennel and potato tortilla, which inspired the following recipe.
Fennel, potato and bacon tortilla/fritatta/omelette/eggy-thing
3 waxy potatoes – peeled and sliced into thin “chips/fries”
1 bulb baby fennel (or half a large one) – thinly sliced
small red onion (sliced or dice)
2 small cloves garlic (or one large one) - chopped
6 eggs (lightly beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper – remember that the bacon is salty)
dash of milk – roughly 1 tablespoon (add this to the beaten eggs before beating)
handful of diced bacon
couple of tablespoonfuls of grated hard cheese (I was about to use parmesan but found some manchego lurking in the fridge)
some diced fennel leaves for garnish
(Sorry for the imprecise measurements, but I don’t really measure everything when cooking savoury meals, especially dinner. If I don’t get the food onto the table quickly enough, I run the risk of being devoured by the hunger monsters.)
Preheat the grill to about 200˚C. In a large frying pan (non-stick and oven proof if possible), crisp up the bacon with a little bit of olive oil. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. If there is too much oil at the bottom of the pan, drain that as well.
In the same pan, fry the potatoes until tender. Remove potatoes and keep warm. Gently fry the onion and garlic until soft, translucent and slightly brown. Return the bacon and potato to the pan. Stir to heat and scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan. Add in the fennel. I like the fennel with a little bit more bite, so I just give it a quick stir before adding the eggs and cheese.
Leave to cook on medium low heat, shaking the pan from time to time to help distribute the uncooked egg. We’re aiming to get the egg to set without burning the base. Once the sides are quite set (the middle will still be a bit raw and runny) transfer pan to griller and grill for about 5-8 minutes (depending on how hot your grill is). The omelette should “puff up” and be golden brown on top. Sprinkle diced fennel leaves on top for garnish.
Serve warm or at room temperature with a salad.
(Makes enough for two adult serves + one leftover lunch serve. The mini-critics scored their own two egg fennel-free version)