“There are two types of culinary fennel: one grown for its bulb and the other for its seeds and leaves. The bulb type is known as Florence fennel because, historically, it was so popular in the Italian city. Today, fennel is like Marmite, because people either love it or hate it, but I find that its distinctive, aniseed-like flavour mellows once cooked and the haters can be easily converted, especially by this delicious gratin”

Whole roasted sea bass with fennel and prosciutto gratin
Serves 4

Ingredients

4 medium fennel bulbs
125g (about 6 slices) Parma ham
500ml double cream
50g fresh breadcrumbs (1 white
roll should make this amount)
3 cloves garlic
A handful of fresh parsley
25g butter
Seasoning
 
1 sea bass of about 1kg, scaled and gutted (farmed smaller bass don’t have the flavour of larger fish)
1 lemon
Fennel fronds from 4 bulbs
Olive oil
Seasoning

Method

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/gas mark 6. Slice the base off the fennel bulbs and then cut each into eight wedges, reserving the fronds for the fish. Arrange them in an ovenproof dish. Take the Parma ham and tear each piece into two, then scrunch them up and fit them in around the fennel. Add seasoning, but go gently with salt as the Parma ham will add its own fair share. Pour over the double cream so that the base is covered, but the fennel wedges stick up here and there.

If making your own fresh breadcrumbs, pulse the blender or food processor until you have coarse breadcrumbs, adding the garlic, parsley and butter at the same time. If you’re using shop-bought breadcrumbs, crush the garlic, chop the parsley and then mix everything together with the butter and rub it together with your fingertips. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the fennel and bake in the oven for one hour.

To prepare the sea bass, slice the lemon and place it inside the fish along with the fennel fronds. Drizzle olive oil over them and add seasoning, then place the fish on an oiled roasting tray in the oven for 30 minutes. Take the gratin and sea bass out of the oven and serve with steamed green beans or salad.
 

More ways with fennel

Fennel and pear salad 

Slice four fennel bulbs and three pears (skins on) into matchsticks. Add diced feta and a small scatter-ing of pomegranate seeds and toss with a balsamic vinaigrette. Divide between four plates and serve as a starter or light lunch with toast that has been drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.

Pasta with fennel pesto

Take a cup of fennel fronds, 2 cloves garlic, 2tbspn slivered almonds, salt and pepper and a quarter cup of extra-virgin olive oil and whizz in a processor until a paste. Toss with pasta, fresh cherry tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon and serve with grated Parmesan.

Simple roasted fennel

Perfect with your Sunday roast: cut fennel bulbs into quarters and place in a roasting dish drizzled with olive oil and a centimetre of chicken stock. Roast for 40 minutes, topping up the stock if needed. Remove from the oven and sprinkle grated Parmesan over the fennel and place back
in the oven for a final five minutes.

* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter 

Give Country Life this Christmas and save up to 40%