Fennel is not to everyone’s taste. Personally I like it very much, but then I love that wonderful aniseed taste. As a boy I used to love going to the sweet shop with my pocket money, and getting a bag of aniseed balls. I’m sure that they were not good for my teeth, but I loved the flavour. Recently in France I came across an aniseed sorbet which I think is delightful, whereas I know others who cannot stand it, and if you like the odd tipple or two of alcohol, then of course that same flavour is there in Pernod or Absinthe. That is also something that I enjoy from time to time!
I had never realised until recently that fennel with its aniseed flavour is a flowering plant species in the carrot family. It is also a herb, and with its bulb base is also a very versatile vegetable, which can be sautéed, stewed, roasted, grilled, or if you fancy it even eaten raw. I often cut a bulb into quarters and roast it along with potatoes, parsnips and carrots, because it gives a different texture as well as flavour to the roasted vegetables.
But recently I have taken to using this very versatile vegetable as an accompaniment to some desserts! Fennel is wonderful when caramelised or candied. I first had it in this way some months ago in a restaurant near Fitou in the south of France. The menu board quite clearly stated:
(Poached Peach and Candied Fennel with Vanilla Ice Cream)
No-one in our group had ever had this before, and it sounded just too good and too interesting not to try it. It worked so well, and I was determined that this would be added to my repertoire of desserts. It goes well with poached apricots and nectarines as well.
It isn’t a difficult process. Simply place one fennel bulb, quartered, into a pan with 100g of caster sugar and 100ml of water, and bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for twenty to thirty minutes, until the fennel is softened and the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Then remove the pan from the heat and allow the fennel to cool. As an alternative to the poached fruit, and I have not yet tried this but understand it works well, you can serve the caramelised fennel with chocolate mousse.
So there you have it, a new dessert for all you aspiring cooks and fennel lovers! Why not give it a try?
Here’s a photo of the dessert taken at that restaurant in Fitou.
(Pêche Pochée et Fenouil Confit, Glace Vanille)