I didn’t touch fennel for years. My nostrils would freak out at the mere sight of one. This liquorice-scented veggie reminded me of a rather inglorious experience with Sambuca many years earlier.
But I’m over that now, having realised that fennel is not nearly as pungent as its distant alcohol-laced cousin. So this is my ode-to-fennel as a sort of absolution from the bulbous family. Two recipes this week. A side of cumin & coconut roasted fennel (click here for the recipe), and a carpaccio of raw fennel with black olives and white peppercorns (see below).
This dish has a snazzy name, but it’s basically chilled, crunchy fennel with a good smack of olives. If you’re planning a party, you can make this salad the day before and keep it covered in the fridge, away from thirsty fingers.
Cold-pressed, virgin oils such as olive, macadamia, linseed and hemp seed are the Kate Middleton of fats. Wholesome, healthy and pure. Star-studded munchies from the planet of ‘good fats’ include olives, avocados, nuts and seeds. It’s fair to say our fetish for driving down cholesterol by fighting fat is a bit perverse. Fat is not the enemy. Our choice of fat, however, is.
Western diets are disturbingly high in bad fats. I’m not referring to steak or butter. There are far worse offenders. Culprits include trans fats in convenience foods, fried foods, and highly processed oils unknowingly found in our supermarket trollies. These cause damage to our cells and are especially talented at bumping up cholesterol levels and dress sizes. Pesky brats. Poor quality fats such as these also antagonise inflammatory conditions such as eczema, arthritis, bronchitis, Alzheimer’s, colitis and IBS.
Olives contain monounsaturated oleic acid (good fat), which help ward off cardiovascular disease by raising good ‘HDL’ cholesterol. Both black and green olives sport heart-healthy compounds – oleocanthal has a strong anti-inflammatory action to help fight heart disease, while polyphenols have shown to help lower blood pressure and the risk of coronary disease.
So start loving olives. Because they certainly love you.
2 medium bulbs of fennel
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1&1/2 tablespoons good quality sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon whole black or white peppercorns, crushed
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup freshly pitted olives
Make sure your fennel is fresh and tender – age tends to turn the outer layers leathery. A bit like ourselves. Using a food processor, find the special slicing blade that fits snugly into the processor’s bowl. Thinly slice both bulbs of fennel, reserving the whispy fronds to decorate the dish later. You can also use a Japanese vegetable slicer or a mandoline if you have one, but remember to keep the bulbs whole which makes slicing so much easier. You’re looking for very finely sliced fennel.
In a separate bowl, socialise the fennel seeds, olive oil, sherry vinegar, peppercorns, and garlic. Tumble into your finely sliced fennel and leave to infuse until hunger hollers.
When you’re ready to serve, scatter the fennel fronds on top, followed by the strips of green olives. If added in advance, the fronds will wilt and turn grey while the olives will cannibalise the fennel’s delicate aniseedy taste. To tap into the health benefits described above, remember to choose oil, brine or water-cured olives over the canned variety.
Either serve on a plate alongside fish, or let your guests help themselves from the salad bowl.