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Fennel Frenzy
© Sue Courtney
20 July 2003

This month's recipes include
- Fennel Braised in Sauvignon Blanc
- Whole Baked Fennel Bulb
- Fennel, Bok Choy and Coriander Rice
- Easy Pan Fried Fish
- Warm Fennel, Apple and Pumpkin Seed Salad
- Fennel, Bacon and Oyster Mushroom Stir Fry
- Fennel and Carrot Soup

Sue Courtney's recipes are all original creations unless otherwise stated. Recipes are inspired by the season and by the wine matches.

Fennel grows wild in northern New Zealand with the ferns growing lush from about October. During the late summer as they start to go to seed, I like to collect the seeds and store them in a jar in my pantry - they're easy to collect. If you live in Auckland you just have to wander around North Head or some other reserve where fennel grows wild - even the roadside in the countryside. The seeds spice up cabbage, chicken and other dishes.

The cultivated fennel bulb is available in New Zealand from April through to July - the seeds are sown in spring and harvested in autumn.

Florence Fennel is becoming more prolific in the food markets and when I saw a box of the bulbs for sale for a respectable $7.95 a kilo, I grabbed a couple to do some recipe experiments. Then I went back for more.

Choose bulbs with a good shoot of fern coming out the top. You will need this for flavour and garnish. Many of the bulbs were flat, which I guess means they were not very developed. I found these good for braising, as they tended to cook more evenly.

Fennel has a delicate 'anise' flavour - I love this flavour and will eat fennel bulbs raw - in small quantities. Must be a hangover from childhood - I just loved those aniseed balls.

Sauvignon Blanc's zingy herbaceousness matches well to fennel, as well as to other herbs such as basil and coriander. Try these recipes with a new season's Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Fennel preparation
Prepare the fennel bulbs by removing the strings from the outer layers if necessary - like celery strings, they are not very nice to eat. The smaller the bulb the more tender and less stringy it will be. You may also like to scrape the outside layer to soften the bulb, especially if the outside is a little hard - I rub gently with a soft pot-mitt.

Fennel Braised in Sauvignon Blanc
For this recipe I use one 'flattish' fennel bulb per person. I usually cook for two.

Split the fennel bulb in half - from the root end to the shoot and the fern end - cutting equally through the shoots to make mirror images (see image above).

In a frying pan heat a couple of tablespoons of garlic oil (olive oil that has had whole peeled garlic cloves infusing in it) and add slices of chopped fresh garlic to lightly saute. After about 30 seconds add about 1 teaspoon of whole fennel seeds and the fennel halves, cut side down. Saute for a couple of minutes then turn and saute the other side for a couple of minutes longer. Add more oil if the pan gets too hot and dry.

Turn the fennel bulb so the cut side is down again and pour in 1/2 cup of fresh, zingy, herbaceous sauvignon blanc. Lower element, cover pan and braise the bulbs in the sauvignon blanc for about 10 minutes - perhaps longer if you have biggish bulbous bulbs, perhaps less if the bulbs are very small, flat and tender. Turn and cook the other side for the same length of time and also add some fennel fern at this point. Do not let the pan get too hot, as the liquid will evaporate. If this happens turn the element down and add a little more Sauvignon Blanc.

Serve cut side up. The fennel would have lost its vibrant green colour, so decorate with additional fresh fennel fern saved from the bit coming out of the top.

Whole Baked Fennel Bulb
This is simplicity in itself.

You will need:

1 fennel bulb - preferably a bulging bulb that is nice and evenly round
1 tbsp garlic infused olive oil.

Prepare the fennel bulb removing strings, etc.
Cut off the growing ends to about 1-2 inches above the bulb. Remove any feather fern bits. Clean up the root end of the bulb, cutting it level across the bottom so the bulb will sit upright in a dish. Make criss-cross cuts into the root end with a sharp knife to aid cooking.
Pour the oil into a small baking dish - I used a 16cm ceramic handled frypan.
Stand the bulb in the oil.
Cover the bulb by enclosing the dish with silver paper.
Pop into a pre-heated oven and cook at about 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, halve and serve.

Fennel, Bok Choy and Coriander Rice
This is a great way to use left over rice or alternatively use can cook the rice separately before hand. Rice is cooked separately rather than preparing the whole dish as a risotto, to ensure the vegetables are not overcooked, thus retaining their vibrant green colourings.

You will need:

1 fennel bulb
1 or 2 mini bok choy (or Shangai bok choy as it is sometimes called )
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
1 cup pre-cooked rice
Garlic infused olive oil for cooking
Sauvignon Blanc for cooking and drinking

Prepare the fennel bulb, removing the strings from the outer leaves and also remove any hardened leaves. Cut the fennel across the bulb (across the grain) into strips, starting at the root end - this will make oval rings.

Heat some garlic-flavoured olive oil in a pan and add the fennel strips to stir-fry. Meanwhile, cut the mini bok choys across the white stem into strips and chop the coriander. When the fennel is starting to soften, add the bok choy and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. These take hardly any time to cook so after a couple of minutes add the chopped coriander and stir-fry together for about 30 seconds. Now add the cup of cooked rice and 1/2 cup of sauvignon blanc. As the liquid evaporates add a little more until the rice is well heated and combined.

I used boiled Abororio rice to give a risotto-like appearance without the hard work of making a risotto. If you wanted you could prepare the rice as a risotto (with onion and sauvignon blanc), preparing the fennel, bok choy and coriander stir-fry in a separate pan and combining everything together for the last few minutes of cooking.

Serve the rice topped with a fillet of with pan-fried white-fleshed fish, such as gurnard or terakihi.

Easy Pan Fried Fish
Take one or two skinned and boned fillets of fish per person.
Wash and dry with a paper towel.
Roll the fish in seasoned flour - simply seasoned with salt and pepper, or seasoned additionally with dried herbs.
Melt butter in a frying pan. When starting to sizzle add the fish.
Cook the fish for 3-4 minutes each side.


Another exciting way to use the fennel bulb is to stuff it. Prepare the bulb as for the above recipes, removing the strings and scraping off any hard bits. Halve across the widest part. Use the largest outer leaf as the container and the incorporate the rest of the bulb in the stuffing. I didn't actually get around to a making a stuffing, though I did make these two warm fennel salads. They could be piled into the outer fennel leaf for serving, or just use small Chinese bowls for individual presentation.

Warm Fennel, Apple and Pumpkin Seed Salad
For each fennel bulb take 1 small apple and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
Prepare and slice fennel bulb, cut in half as pictured (top) the slice across the grain.
Peel, core and cut apple into similar sized strips.
Heat oil in a pan, add the fennel, apple and pumpkin seeds and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. The aim is that the fennel and apple are still crisp, but warm.
Serve immediately with Sauvignon Blanc.

Fennel, Bacon and Oyster Mushroom Stir Fry
For each fennel bulb take 2 rashers of finely chopped bacon strips and 1/2 cup of chopped oyster mushrooms (pictured).
Heat the oil in the pan and add the bacon to saute. After a couple of minutes add the finely sliced fennel and stir fry for 3-4 minutes. Lastly add the chopped oyster mushrooms and cook for a minute longer.
Serve immediately.
This was quite delicious with an earthy herbaceous Pinot Noir, such as one from Central Otago.

Fennel and Carrot Soup
An easy solution for a lazy winter evening.

You will need:
1 fennel bulb
3 carrots
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
2 tsp chicken stock
6-8 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste
Whipped cream or Crème Fraiche

Choose a good size fennel bulb that is well endowed with fern.
Cut off the fern and reserve half for the garnish, the other half will be chopped to add to the soup.
Remove the stringy bits from the fennel bulb then dice the bulb, as you would an onion.
Peel and grate the carrots.
Melt the butter and oil in a saucepan.
Add the fennel seeds and sizzle for 30 seconds then add the diced fennel bulb.
Cook for 2-3 minutes then add the grated carrot and stir to get most of the carrot over the heat in the base of the saucepan while cooking for another 3-4 minutes.
Add the chopped fennel fern.
Sprinkle over the chicken stock and stir some more, then add the water and some freshly ground black pepper.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes until cooked.
Test for seasoning and add more salt and pepper to your taste.
Ladle the soup into plate.

If you want you could add a dollop of cream and garnish with wispy fennel fern - but the soup is so deliciously sweet on its own it doesn't really need the cream or extra fern to enhance the flavour.


For a useful Fennel information page, go to

Kia pai te kai

© Sue Courtney
July 2003

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