All about fennel
PHOTOS: NICOLA GALLOWAY • PORTRAIT: DANIEL ALLEN
Florence fennel, not to be confused with ubiquitous wild fennel, is a joy to eat and grow. It has a sweet aniseed flavour with a delightful crunch, and is one of my regular garden crops that is particularly abundant in the months of spring. Fennel is one of those wonderful vegetables that, left to its own devices, will happily self-germinate throughout the garden. What started for me as a punnet of fennel seedlings from the market some years back has now become a regular supply of self-seeded fennel speckled around the garden. Of course, some germinate on paths and awkward spaces, but they are simply transferred to a nearby garden bed. I like to think of this approach to gardening as survival of the fittest. The produce that happily grows in my cooler garden will then naturally germinate when the conditions are right. I love observing this cycle, and rather than relying exclusively on gardening guides all of the time, I let nature take the lead. It is both humbling and rewarding to garden this way. I use this method for Florence fennel, coriander, parsley, rocket, lettuce, sprouting broccoli, silverbeet, kale, edible flowers and more. It is not recommended for everything – in particular cucurbit varieties are prone to cross-pollinating if grown in proximity to each other – but the beauty of gardening this way is that, although it might look a bit rough and wild, my garden almost always has something ready to harvest. Plus the flowering plants going to seed add delightful pops of colour. Fennel flowers in particular are one of my favourites with their wispy yellow umbrellas. If you are growing fennel, I hope you are enjoying all of its seasons and fruitful results. Here is a resourceful tip: don’t pull the whole plant out when harvesting, instead cut the bulb flush to the soil leaving the root intact. A new set of smaller bulbs will then sprout from the root. These little fennel bulbs are extra sweet and crunchy and perfect for eating raw in salads. Pickled Fennel with Lemon & Coriander I tend to harvest fennel bulbs as needed to use in cooking. However, when I need to clear out an area of the garden for summer planting, this pickle is a flavourful way to preserve any excess. The lovely aniseed flavour of the fennel is complemented by the freshness of lemon zest, and citrusy spice notes of coriander seeds. I like the flavour of honey as the sweetener in this pickle, but sugar can also be used if preferred. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled as needed. Preparation time: 30 minutes Cooking time: 5 minutes Makes 2 x 500ml or 4 x 250ml jars 400ml apple cider or white wine vinegar 200ml water 1/3 cup (70g) sugar or ¼ cup mild honey 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons coriander seeds 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 1 teaspoon mustard seeds 600g medium fennel bulbs (about 2-3) Squeeze of lemon Zest of 2 lemons, thinly sliced Wash jars and lids with hot soapy water, rinse well then place into a 120°C oven to sterilise while preparing the pickle. Or run the jars through a dishwasher cycle. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar/honey, salt and spices. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar/honey. Remove from the heat. Wash the fennel thoroughly to remove any dirt caught in the layers. Use a mandolin or sharp knife to thinly slice the fennel, about 2 mm thick. Place into a bowl as you go, adding a squeeze of lemon to prevent browning. Tear any tender fennel greens (fronds) into small pieces and add to the fennel along with the lemon zest. Toss to combine. Reheat the pickling liquid if needed. Remove the hot jars from the oven and cool for a few minutes so they are easier to handle. Firmly pack the sliced fennel and lemon zest into the jars. Pour over the hot pickling liquid to come within 5 mm from the top of the jar. Tap gently a few times on the bench to dislodge any air bubbles. Top up if needed and firmly screw on the lids. Leave the jars to cool completely then check the lids have vacuum sealed. The lids will concave into the jar if they are correctly sealed (any unsealed jars need to be kept in the fridge). Store sealed jars in a cool dark pantry for up to 6 months. Once opened, keep in the fridge and consume within 1 month.