I haven’t always cooked with fennel. Growing up in a Caucasian household, it wasn’t a regular feature at the dinner table but I knew of its existence. It wasn’t until I became friends with an Italian/Australian friend in high school that fennel’s connection with Mediterranean cuisine revealed itself. I’d like to tell you about the various ways my new friend’s mother cooked with ‘finocchio’ but instead I began a deep descent into pasta forno, lasagne and canoli. My friend has been trying to get rid of me ever since.
She lives overseas now but I sometimes remember her on our lunch breaks, burdened with morning sickness and unable to eat anything but fennel. If you have a friend who can walk down a busy city street eating an entire bulb of fennel like nobody is watching, you keep them.
When I first started dating my husband, I couldn’t get enough of the crunchy aniseed hit in his mother’s salads so I started putting it in mine too. I discovered I could roast it, braise it or put it in risotto. I paired it in salads with orange. It came to me in tablet form when I felt the anguish of a baby at the bottom of a growth chart and a dwindling milk supply.
My children turn their noses up at fennel in all of its disguises but I can’t help wondering what foods will reinvent themselves as they meet best friends and fall in love. What began as a funny looking vegetable that looked like a hand, is now a soundtrack to the milestones of my life. And the beauty is the reel keeps on turning. I haven’t even started making sausages yet.
Do you have a favourite vegetable?