I have a thing for baby vegetables – part of it is that they just look so appealing – I guess that this makes a great deal of sense; babies are generally cuter than the adults that they turn into after all. Often, I’ll return from shopping with a fruit or vegetable that was not on my list for any other reason than it was small and looked good.
Thus I found myself returning with half a dozen bulbs of baby fennel the other day without a really clear idea of what to do with them – especially as I wouldn’t describe myself as a big fan of fennel. My wife likes it however and I sort of feel that I should like it. In general however I find the aniseed flavour to be somewhat overpowering. Arak or Ouzo are not on my favourites list for the same reason.
I do find however that the baby vegetables tend to be sweeter and, in the case of fennel at least, that the aniseediness is less pronounced. Trying these babies was something of a revelation and I decided not to mess too much with the natural flavour to start off with and threw together a simple salad by roughly chopping the fennel bulbs and tossing them with lemon juice and some olive oil, salt and pepper and the last of this season’s pomegranate seeds for colour and the little healthy bursts of sweetness that they do so well.
Next up I decided on another really simple dish which always goes down well – simple roasted fennel. As is often the case with roasting veggies (think onions and garlic in particular) this dials up the sweetness of the vegetable and makes the outstanding flavour less aggressive. Very simply – I just halved or quartered the bulbs from top to bottom, drizzled them with olive oil and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar and threw them into a hot oven. They’re ready when they’re soft – the outside should be somewhat caramelized.