A trip to the Dublin Food Co-op at the weekend threw up some lovely surprises – a raw food stall, which I think VK will be very interested in, a comprehensive dried goods section for all your pulse-, legume- and grain-based needs, a baker offering several yeast-free and gluten-free alternatives, and veggie producers selling, amongst other things, one of my all-time favourite vegetables – fennel.

I hadn’t seen any in the local shops – maybe they don’t stock it because there’s little demand for it, or maybe they’re being ultra-strict about seasonality as fennel only really comes into its own about now. Whatever the reason, it’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to cook with fennel, so I greedily popped four bulbs of aniseedy goodness in my basket and skipped off with a big smile on my face. Clearly, I don’t get out enough if this sort of thing counts as exciting.

Bulb number one was eaten straight away – raw and unadulterated. Some people find it too harsh/unpleasant but I’ve always been a savoury girl rather than sweet (no jokes from my family, please) so the pleasure of that refreshing, sharp flavour is something I look forward to and enjoy enormously.

The second one was thrown into a salad for some extra crunch and bite. Numbers three and four went into the following pasta dish, the aniseed overtones baked down into a backnote to complement rather than overpower the other ingredients.

This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days. He recommends it as a tasty side dish and then, in a throw-away note, mentions that it would make a sexy little pasta. I’ve never used it as the side dish – I can’t get past making this creamy, soothing, very satisfying dinner.

Fennel, tomato and ricotta pasta – adapted from Happy Days by Jamie Oliver
(Serves 2)

You’ll need:

2 fennel bulbs, cut into quarters
A punnet of cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
A few dots of butter
About 125g of ricotta
A handful of grated parmesan
14 black olives, stoned and sliced

Enough pasta for two

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
2. Put the fennel quarters in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Drain the fennel, then add to a large roasting dish, along with the tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Slosh some olive oil in the pan and mix the vegetables up to make sure they’re well coated. Then dot some bits of butter around the pan. Very scientific, this.
4. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables look cooked through. Remove from the oven and let the veg cool enough to handle.
5. Cook the pasta, according to manufacturer’s instructions.
6. In the meantime, chop the cooled fennel into pieces about 2cm big.
7. Drain the cooked pasta and return to the saucepan. Add the ricotta and parmesan – stir to melt the cheese (no need to use the the stove top for this, the heat from the pasta is enough.)
8. Add the chopped fennel, the rest of the roasted veg mixture and the olives. Stir through and season if neccesary.
9. Serve.
Advertisements