Today’s recipe is a roasted fennel and carrot recipe tossed in mustard seeds, cinnamon and olive oil, to make a warm, slightly spiced vegetable side dish that has almost no preparation (no peeling – woo-hoo!) and looks like a show stopper when you put it on the table. Go fennel, go!
Fennel? Funnel? Huh?
Fennel is one of those peculiar ingredients which I didn’t eat for a very large swathe of my existence. Not through choice, simply because it didn’t ever get to my plate or kitchen for some reason. It also sounds a bit like ‘funnel’, which is a very odd image to have when considering what vegetables to eat. Nonetheless, it’s absence from my diet remained intact for a long time, even though I was aware of it’s existence, hovering on the sidelines of my world, like a substitute waiting for his chance at a goal.
Fennel also held a mysterious allure, as if it was a clandestine elegant lady who only appears in posh restaurants and at high class dinner parties. The kind of place where my attempts to join the conversations would fall into the category of ‘punching above my weight’. I thought it was an upper class vegetable, reserved only for haute cuisine and tasting menus, not for slapdash preparation and decidedly home cooking-esque treatments, like simple roasted fennel.
I was proven wrong when I discovered that fennel is a remarkably versatile veg, happy to be used raw or cooked, eaten hot or cold, in salads or with a Sunday roast. All you need is an enjoyment of the anise flavour, which makes a refreshing antidote to many other vegetables that spring up on my table and are frankly a bit dull on their own. Roasted fennel works the table like a sparkling raconteur, providing an out-of-the-ordinary allure and exotic interest to any meal, even if it’s just served up alone.
Raw or roasted fennel wins every time.
Fennel even looks interesting. Fluffy fronds of dill-like whimsey, sprouting from the ends of the slightly alien like stalks, or antennae. It’s all edible as well, so there’s none of that tedious peeling, chopping, slicing, it looks fabulous just quartered and cooked. There is a tough bit in the middle, as are the antennae, however my answer to that is chew a bit harder, or don’t eat them. My tolerance for food preparation is rapidly diminishing over time, so any way that I can reduce it’s presence is highly welcome. Hence the tough bits stay in and the diners can choose their preference. That’s why the carrots are skin-on as well. In fact, the whole thing is pretty darn laissez-faire.
Peak fennel season is late summer and early winter, so now is the ideal time to pick up some large chunks of the vegetable from your supermarket and get roasting. Alternatively, try this fennel and orange salad from BBC Good Food, it’s a corker and simple to make. I served it alongside some spicy roast tilapia and sweet potatoes and it cut through the other dishes like a swear word at a church sermon and went down a storm.
Mustard Roasted Fennel and Carrot
By Gavin Wren
Serves 4 as a side.
Uses a roasting tin
2 Fennel bulbs, washed and quartered lengthways
600g carrots, washed, skin on, halved lengthways
3 tbsp Olive oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown mustard seeds
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges to serve
Place the fennel, carrots, olive oil, cinnamon, mustard seeds and salt and pepper in a roasting tin. Mix well.
Place in the oven for 50 minutes, turning the vegetables half way.
Serve with lemon wedges.