I love fennel in all its guises.
Fennel attracts hoverflies so helps to keep greenfly at bay. The bright green ferny fronds of the leaves are so pretty.
I never manage to grow the really big fat bulbs you see in French and Italian markets but the little bulbs I produce are delicious finely sliced into salads or mixed with home made mayonnaise and chopped Spring Onions to make a lovely Fennel Slaw. Sea bass or trout with a large knob of butter and bulb fennel fronds, wrapped in foil and baked in the oven is a quick, healthy and very tasty supper.
I also grow wild fennel which doubles up as a delicate and airy flowering perennial in the borders, attracting butterflies and bees and the beautiful flower heads provide the freshest seeds for flavouring all manner of rice dishes.
Pork and fennel are great friends. Slow roasted pork belly is wonderful when the skin is deeply and carefully scored and rubbed generously with sea salt and fennel seeds. Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh sell a delicious salami with fennel – the story goes that a young Italian boy stole a salami from a village butcher’s stall and ran off with it. He hid it in a thicket which was full of wild fennel plants. He came back the next day and took the salami home. His family were very taken with the flavour the salami had taken on so his father came up with a recipe for salami with fennel seeds and so Salami Finocchiona was born.
Fennel has all manner of magical properties it seems. The ancient Greeks used it to treat many ailments as did the Romans, who, with all their banquets, were much in need of fennel’s stomach-soothing properties and the Roman ladies believed it prevented obesity.
We’re well into September now. The bulb fennel is coming on nicely and the wild fennel is looking very decorative throughout the garden. When the winter comes, I shan’t cut the wild fennel down, I’ll leave it with its seedheads to feed the little birds when food is scarce. Meantime it’s baby golden beetroot salad to go with some salmon this evening. Baby beets (in the photo here) simply boiled until soft to the point of a sharp knife, skinned and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and fresh wild fennel seeds.