What to do with in-season fennel

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Fennel can be a very divisive ingredient, with its extremely distinctive, aniseed-like flavour. Despite looking like a large spring onion, it can taste more like liquorice, so it's not for everyone.

But if you are a fennel fan, now is the best time to be cooking with it, as the summer is when it's at its best here in the UK.

You can buy dried fennel seeds, which are fantastic for flavouring curries and tagines with, adding a little heat, making them a perfect ingredient for during the winter months.

Fresh fennel is at its best right now, though, and eating it can in fact have a whole variety of potential benefits for your health. Fennel is high in fibre, and it's also a good natural source of potassium and vitamin C, both of which are known for helping to keep hearts healthy and immune systems in good condition.

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It can have a rather pungent, distinctive smell too, so before experimenting with it, make sure you have one of our Chef's Friend Reed Diffusers, a Chef's Friend Candle in a Tin or a Chef's Friend Room Spray to hand to prevent strong cooking aromas from lingering for too long.

So, what exactly should you be cooking with fennel while it's in season?

Roasted carrot and fennel soup

It might not be prime soup season right now, but the gorgeous fresh vegetable flavours in Jamie Oliver's roast carrot and fennel soup make for a lovely light summer meal or starter for a dinner party.

The recipe requires two bulbs of fennel, a kilogram of carrots, an onion, two cloves of garlic, one-and-a-half litres of vegetable stock, 100 ml of single cream and a drizzle of olive oil. The vegetables need roasting in the oven, before they are placed in a pan to simmer along with the other ingredients, before being blitzed into a beautiful orange-coloured soup.

Fennel and leek tart

Fennel is also a wonderful addition to a summer tart or quiche. Make sure you use a tea towel or some paper towels to squeeze all of the moisture out of your fennel before adding it to your pastry case to avoid a soggy bottom! Do the same with your leeks too, and pour over the mixture of seasoned eggs, milk and cheese that you usually use when making a quiche.

Have you ever considered pairing chocolate with fennel?

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Make your own pastry if you have the time, but shop-bought shortcrust pastry will work just as well and provide you with a handy cheat's shortcut.

Fennel lasagne

Slicing fresh fennel into layers turns it into an excellent addition for a lasagne - if you're trying to curb your carb intake, you could even use several layers of fennel as a vegetable substitute for pasta sheets.

Or you could take inspiration from 2009 MasterChef winner Mat Follas, who suggests using a vegetarian ragu-style sauce made from fennel and roasted tomatoes as an alternative to a traditional bolognese-esque sauce in your homemade lasagne over on the BBC Good Food website. Serve with a fennel salad for extra freshness and flavour.

Fennel gratin

For a summery side dish with a difference, a fennel gratin is a lovely option. It's a much lighter choice than a traditional potato-based gratin, and BBC Good Food has a gorgeous, simple recipe that advises using a sprinkle of nutmeg in the creamy sauce to balance out the strong flavour of the fennel.

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Fennel goes very well alongside white fish and meat, so if you're having a plain pork chop or piece of cod for dinner, this gratin will add a much more exciting element to your meal.

Chocolate and fennel mousse cake

Have you ever considered pairing chocolate with fennel before? It's a slightly unusual suggestion, but it actually works very well. Aniseed and liquorice often feature in puddings, and fennel has a very similar flavour to both of these, which means it does work well in a sweet dish too.

For example, James Martin has a recipe for a chocolate and fennel mousse cake, which features candied peel, as well as grated fennel in the cake batter itself. Before you turn your nose up at this concept, ingredients like courgette and beetroot might not ordinarily be your first choice for sweet baking, but they both work beautifully in a chocolate cake. And the candied peel on top finishes everything off perfectly.

Enjoy experimenting with fennel this summer; just remember to keep our Chef's Friend products handy to prevent a lingering cooking aroma. Buy them here