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Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Top Tips for Cooking Fennel

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is here to offer some expert advice on how best to use one of our most favourite homegrown herbs – fennel.

Question: We always manage to pick up fennel in our veg boxes and although I am not a massive fan I am keen to make it work for the whole family including a 6 year old and a fussy 4 year old.

Answer: I think you’re going to have to try a few things, and see what goes down well. First thing is, if the outer layer looks a bit tired, tough and dry (which is often the case unless the fennel is very freshly picked) it’s not doing you any favours, so peel it off. Ideally use it in a stock or soup, but don’t put it in your ‘prime’ fennel dish.

To see if anyone loves it raw, slice it very thinly (think wafer!) and toss with good olive oil, a squueze of lemon juice and salt and pepper. Leave to take up the dressing for ten minutes or so, toss again, and serve as simple salad.

The aniseed taste of fennel is very distinctive, but it does mellow a lot with cooking, which many people prefer to raw. I love fennel cut into wedges (1/4 of a small bulb, or eighths of a large one) tossed in a little oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted until tender and slightly caramelised (about half an hour in fairly hot 180 C oven).

But my FAVOURITE way to cook fennel is definitely on the barbecue. Slice lengthways, a little bit thicker than for the salad (2-3 mm) and place on the hot bars of your barbie. Leave for a good minute (if your bbq’s crazy hot it might be less) until you have nicely charred stripes, then turn over to stripe the other side.

Move to a warm dish when done, and dress with olive oil, lemon, a whisper of garlic and a sprinkle of chopped mint. Better still, have this dressing made in the dish, and toss the still hot fennel pieces in the dressing as it comes off the barbecue.