With its bulbous root stem and distinct aniseed piquancy, this popular and versatile Mediterranean vegetable is available year around. Delicious both raw and cooked, Italians will often serve fennel at the end of a meal in preference to fruit or marinade slivers in fruity olive oil to be served as antipasti. The Southern French meanwhile, are partial to flavouring fish dishes and fish soups with its feathery fonds. For me, fennel provokes thoughts of alfresco summertime dining.

Because of its strong flavour I advise a cautious hand in deciding the quantity of raw fennel to add to salads. This is a vegetable which I prefer to cook, lessening its forceful essence to one which is most delicately aromatic.

Where a dish calls for raw, do consider blanching. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil as the fennel is prepared. Pop into the rapidly boiling water for about 2 minutes and then immediately drain then plunge into ice cold water and drain again. The cold water halts the cooking process, whilst its brief contact with boiling water is sufficient to remove the full astringency.

With spring promise in the air awakening thoughts of lighter meals, fennel is a natural choice to titillate wintery taste buds in anticipation of fresh flavours to follow.

Remember the benefits of soup – cheap, tasty and vitamin packed and an ideal choice for a quick lunch. Prepare a double or triple batch to store, portioned in the freezer, ready-to-eat at moments notice. The trick is to introduce new season flavours and hold back on rich cream.

Carrot, Fennel and Thyme Soup
Serves 4

  • 1 litre of chicken stock
  • 500g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ bulb of fennel, roughly chopped
  • few sprigs of tender, fresh thyme
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a lidded saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil and add the roughly chopped carrots and fennel. Cover, turn down the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until tender. Remove and allow it to cool a little.

Tip the vegetables and stock into a food processor or for convenience use an immersion blender (hand held blender) directly in the pan. Add the thyme and seasoning and blend to smooth.

Serve piping hot with fresh bread.

With warming thoughts of an Italian summer, to marry lemon with fennel is instinctive and to combine with chicken feels inspired. Lingering aromatically, an oven roast is an easy choice, the only later requirement being to fling together a leafy salad.

Lemon Fennel Roast Chicken
Serves 3 – 4

  • 2kg oven ready chicken
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut into 6 wedges
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 tbs. fennel seeds
  • 250ml water

Preheat the oven to 180C

Place the chicken in a roasting pan and stuff 2 wedges of lemon into the cavity of the chicken, 2 wedges of fennel and then the remaining lemon. Arrange the remaining fennel around the chicken.

Easing the skin away from the chicken, rub the fennel seeds into the breast meat. Press down the skin and drizzle both the chicken and fennel wedges with olive oil.

Roast in the preheated oven for about 1½ hours or until the juices run clear. Serve hot or cold, but if serving hot do cover the chicken with a clean cloth or foil and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes.

Serve with salad and the roast fennel.