Domini Kemp: Ring in the spring with raw and roasted fennel

Fennel and goat’s cheese salad, stewed courgettes and a caponata

Roast and raw fennel, blood orange and goat’s cheese salad. Photograph: Alan Betson

Roast and raw fennel, blood orange and goat’s cheese salad. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Fennel, with its plump, hourglass-shaped leaves which wrap around each other to form a shapely bulb, is gorgeously feminine to look at – its soft, wispy tops sitting atop that pale green form like a fascinator on a lady at the races. Philip Treacy, eat your heart out.

But its most winning qualities are found within, as this graceful Mediterranean vegetable is rich in vitamins A and C and also contains calcium, phosphorus and potassium.

Fennel is most often eaten raw, which keeps those nutrients intact; which is handy, because some of the components of the essential oils in fennel stimulate secretion of digestive and gastric juices, while reducing inflammation of the stomach and intestines, and helping you to absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. It’s also full of fibre and great for keeping you, um, regular. Job done.

So, onto this week’s recipes. Combining raw and roasted fennel, this salad is a real harbinger of spring – fresh and bright, but also filling. The goat’s cheese is a luscious, salty companion to the sweetness of the fennel, and the orange slices give it real citrus zing without the overkill. The whole thing is brought together by a sharp, herby dressing – just be sure to chop those shallots as fine as you can get them.

The other two recipes – yes, this week there are three – are for similarly Mediterranean dishes which can be eaten either together or as an accompaniment to some grilled or roasted meat or even the more robust fish varieties, like hake.

The first, for stewed courgettes, is simplicity itself: cooked in olive oil and lemon juice until they almost fall apart. I served them at my dearest sister-in-law’s sit-down birthday party for 23 guests, along with thick slices of rare beef. They are a fab dish for just this type of occasion. No nervous fretting at the stove to make sure they are al dente. No siree – you cook the heck out of these bad boys so that they lasciviously fall around each other.

The other is my version of the classic caponata – a Sicilian tomato-based stew of mainly aubergines and celery, though my recipe does away with the pine nuts and capers. By all means add them back in if you prefer – it’s that kind of food: unfussy, robust and tasty as hell. Delicious with roast meats.

Food cooked and styled by Domini Kemp and Gillian Fallon

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