Deliciously aniseedy fennel, the marmite of the vegetable world (you either love it or you hate it), has made an appearance in my veg box again this week. Being a fan, I’m happy but I know a lot of people who’d roll their eyes faced with fennel. If you fall into that category (and you know who you are), do not stop reading now or think that this one is not for you. Quite the contrary, this one is especially for you.
Now nothing gives me greater satisfaction than slicing up some fennel finely and adding it raw to a homemade coleslaw, or a nice citrusy salad. Alright, maybe the slicing is a bit of an exaggeration but I do like to eat it that way. To be fair, I wouldn’t mind too much if someone else wanted to do the chopping, they just never do in my house. But my love of it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand why some people might find the flavour when raw slightly overwhelming. If that’s you and overwhelmed is the way you feel about fennel, then all is not lost. You can counter this by braising it. Cooked in this way, alongside other complementary vegetables a more subtle flavour emerges, perfect for anybody who isn’t yet a fennel fancier or for any children who haven’t yet got used to the taste. Coupled with the last of the winter leeks, creamy flageolets and sweet peas a lovely delicate spring flavour comes out which works perfectly to pad out any leftover chicken and a homemade stock. And the children will love it.
A quick final word (before you dash off to try said method) for those who you still trying to work out why they should be desperately trying to develop a taste for fennel. It is cheap, it is readily available with a long season and think about how good it is for you. Yes, it has the usual high fibre, low calorie and high vitamin C levels that you would expect from any other fresh fruit or veg but it is also full of potassium for heart health and phosphorus, calcium and vitamin K for bone health. And if that’s not enough reason for you, let me tell you that fennel is also a good source of selenium, a great detoxifying anti -inflammatory which helps to inhibit tumour growth. Surely reason enough for anybody to give it a second chance?
Chicken and Spring Vegetable Stew Recipe
1 leftover roast chicken carcass or one stock chicken (at a push you could use 6 chicken pieces, bone in, but it’s not really in the spirit of the dish)
2 tbsps olive oil
3 leeks, washed thoroughly and sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and roughly diced (tough core removed if necessary)
Around 12 new potatoes
1 x 400g tin of flageolets (you could also cook them from dried if you feel that way inclined)
150g petit pois (frozen)
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt and Pepper
A couple of tsps of pesto loosened with a tbsp or so of olive oil to serve
Place your chicken in a pan and cover it with water. Put a lid on it and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and let simmer for at least 2 hours. This is best done the day before.
Once the chicken is falling off the bones or the carcass is falling apart, remove from the heat and allow to cool. If you are doing this the day before, refrigerate. When you are ready to start making the stew, sieve the broth (if you have had it in the fridge you may need to warm it slightly to make it runny again), removing the bones and gristle but saving the meat. Save the stock. You will need around 800 ml. for this recipe; if you have extra, freeze it.
Crush your garlic and warm the olive oil in a large pan. Soften the leek and fennel for around ten minutes. Throw the garlic into the mix and carry on cooking for around a minute.
Scrub (there is no need to peel) and cut your new potatoes into bite sized pieces. I usually find that halving them will do the trick. Add them to your pan as well then pour in your stock and the leftover meat with some seasoning and the chopped thyme.
Bring to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes, or until the potatoes are almost cooked through.
Add the tinned flageolets and the petit pois and cook for a further 3 minutes, or until the peas and potatoes are cooked through. Top up if you need any more stock at any point.
Serve with mashed potatoes, orzo or spaetzle and drizzle your pesto oil over the top of the stew for an extra flavour boost.