Fennel makes a beautiful display in the kitchen garden but don't waste the delicious bulbs or the delicate fronds

“I remember seeing an exquisite garden at the Chelsea Flower Show a few years
ago in which fennel was included purely as decoration, despite it being the edible variety. It inspired me to plant fennel in my own kitchen garden. It makes a beautiful display, but I wouldn’t dream of wasting the delicious bulbs or the delicate fronds, for that matter. Fennel’s flavour divides opinion, but I absolutely love it”

Scallops with sauce vierge and lemon-roasted fennel
Serves 4

Ingredients

4 fennel bulbs, quartered
through the root
150ml white wine
The juice and zest of 2 lemons
A generous splash of olive oil
100g fresh breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
A handful fresh, chopped
parsley
Seasoning
25g butter
12 scallops, roe removed,
in shells
A splash of olive oil
3 banana shallots
4 plum tomatoes
1tbspn chives, chopped
1tbspn basil, chopped
1tbspn thyme
30g capers
The juice and zest of a lemon
Seasoning

Method

Preheat your oven to 180˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4. Remove any damaged outer layers from the fennel bulbs, then cut them into quarters and arrange the wedges in a roasting tray or ovenproof dish. Pour the white wine, lemon juice and olive oil over them and mix so everything is well covered. Cook in the oven for 25 minutes.

In a bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, crushed garlic, parsley, lemon zest, butter and seasoning and use your fingertips to rub the butter into it. Take the roasting tray out of the oven and scatter the breadcrumb mixture over the fennel. Cook for a further
15 minutes, by which time the bulbs should be tender but still retain a bite.

While the fennel is cooking, add a splash of olive oil to a heated pan. Add the finely chopped banana shallots and fry gently. Dice the tomatoes, removing the seeds, and add them to the pan along with the chopped herbs, lemon juice and zest and capers. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Take the scallops in their shells and loosen them from their base. Spoon the sauce over them and cook in the oven for about 4 minutes. Serve the scallops in their shells with the lemony fennel on the side, with some crusty bread to mop up the
delicious and fragrant juices. The sauce vierge on the scallops here is also perfect with other fish, such as sea bass.

More ways with fennel

Warm fennel salad with feta and pomegranate
Finely slice 4 bulbs of fennel and put them in an ovenproof dish. Pour olive oil and enough hot chicken stock over them so that the slices are half-submerged. Cook in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir in 100g feta and the seeds from 1 pomegranate. Make a dressing by mixing together 50ml olive oil, 2tbspns lemon juice, 1tbspn pomegranate molasses, seasoning and chopped chives. Serve with other salads or with bread.

Crab, fennel and pancetta risotto
Fry an onion in a splash of olive oil in a large pan until translucent. Add 4 chopped slices of pancetta and fry for a few minutes, before adding 500g Arborio rice, stirring to coat it in the olive oil. Pour in 250ml white wine and keep stirring until fully absorbed. Add 1 litre of chicken stock in one go, followed by 2 fennel bulbs that have been finely sliced into match-sticks. Stir every few minutes until the stock is all absorbed. Add 200g white crabmeat, 30g butter and a handful each of basil and parsley and rest it with a lid on for 5 minutes. Serve scattered with fresh crab, raw fennel slices, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice.

This article was originally published in Country Life, September 17, 2014