Thursday, January 18, 2007

Grilled fennel

I once interviewed Nico Ladenis, who told me that he abhorred the fashion for grilled vegetables. They were burned, and yet undercooked. It seemed that the jacket of every cook book of the time -- this was the mid-90s -- featured a blackened vegetal concoction. "The pictures make me feel ill," Nico shuddered.

Fennel appears to be a terrible candidate for grilling, because it does not soften easily when subjected to dry heat. But a ridged grill pan is ideal when preparing fennel for a salad. Trim the stalks, and slice the fennel quite thinly -- about the width of a pound coin -- lengthways through the root, so that the root holds the vegetable together. Grill the slices, dry, on a grillpan on a low flame, until they are translucent -- about 15 minutes. Toss them while still hot in a vinaigrette. The sauce softens them; but they retain an al dente texture, and a flavour of sweetened aniseed. They go well with bitter leaves, grilled or roasted peppers, olives, orange or grapefruit, and cheese -- particularly goat's.

I am often unsure how much fennel to trim. "Remove any tough or discoloured outer leaves," recipes say; once you have done that, the bulb is usually less than half its original size.

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