I know one shouldn’t do this, but I frequently experiment with my new recipes on unsuspecting dinner guests. This may or may not put you off if I invite you for a meal but, in my defense, I’ve never had to throw the dinner out and order pizza. Neither have I had any gastric disasters that I’m aware of, although my friends may just be too polite to say.
Over the years my family have suffered (although NOT silently, it must be said) through every different flavour combination or ethnic cuisine that has caught my fancy – often when really all they truly want for dinner is sausages and mashed potato. Try as I might, I can’t get them excited about much that is too far out of their comfort zone, so I wait until we are sharing our table with guests. Then I hope that the kids will be too polite to screw their noses up at whatever I’ve concocted or, even better and as is more often the case these days, have all found something more interesting to do.
As I mentioned last week, I’m playing with a seasonal orange-based food theme as I use up the five kilo bag of Navels I bought at the Farmers’ Market and this dish was so good I’ve made it twice this week. The husband loves fish, but I’m not a huge fan – I find it just a bit too, well, “fishy”. However, I absolutely adore fennel (yet another thing that my fussy kids push to the sides of their plate).
Native to the Mediterranean region, but happy to put down roots almost anywhere, fennel is one of those wonderful plants that is useful from it’s delicate, feathery, green fronds, gorgeous golden flower pollen and aromatic seeds, right down to the fat white bulb at the base of the plant. It’s delightful aniseed flavour is one of the base flavours of absinthe, a once-banned drink that was also known as “the green fairy”.
The bulb is enormously versatile in the kitchen and can be stewed, sauteed, grilled, roasted or eaten raw. It pairs up particularly well with oranges and is often used raw in a salad with both orange and olives. It’s a little too cool for salads right now, but fennel is in season so I just adapted that idea, also taking the chance to use up a jar of dukkah which had been trying to catch my attention from the pantry shelf.
This is another striking, but simple dish. It’s baked all together on a tray and relies on fresh, seasonal flavours to lend it maximum impact. Just make sure you put the fennel in the oven first, giving it a chance to caramelise before you add the fish.