Fennel and Pancetta
Sometimes I can't decide if I like fennel or not. Sometimes i think, oh I'll have some raw, and then its aniseedy taste hits me in the mouth. But when it's cooked, I think it's hard to find it offensive, at the very least. I definitely like cooked fennel, although I am not a fan of anything aniseed tasting at all. My dad likes drinking pastis before dinner, and I can always smell it from metres away, and have to hold my nose when I move towards that glass of cloudy drink. And although I don't think anyone would claim Sambuca to be a gourmet concoction of any sort, I have a special hatred for it. The smell is what it is, I honestly find it vile. But I like dill and I like fennel, which I guess are less distilled versions of what those things are, so maybe that's why they're okay.
So we had pancetta and a fennel bulb in the fridge. And because my strategy is usually to pair any stray ingredients with pasta, that is what we did. After all, the easiest way of making anything taste better is to cook it with bacon (in this case pancetta). I had seen an intriguing picture a few days ago in a magazine of grilled fennel, but since I had my pancetta, what better thing to do than to fry the pancetta and then fry the fennel in its fat and juices?
But I didn't just want things on pasta. I wanted the fennel to become kind of saucy, to coat the pasta, at least a little. So I tore the outer, thicker leaves (is that what you call them?) off the fennel and chopped them into small bits, then just sliced the inner bit into chunks. I fried the pancetta, then tossed in the finely chopped fennel and cooked them for a bit. Then I put the bigger slices in and left them a good while on each side, so they would become nice and caramelised on the outside. Then, a good splash of vermouth (or white wine) (or water), bubble away until the fennel is just soft, then a cube of butter, just to make it really nice and silky, and then I tossed it all together with some spaghetti. Garnish with the fennel tops and chopped parsley, and you're done.
Tim and I are going camping in a few days, at the Lake District. I'm not exactly the most outdoorsy of people, so it should be interesting to say the least. But in typical me-fashion, I've already planned what we're going to cook and eat. Since we're only going to bring one saucepan, we're going to be eating one-pot meals for three days. I hope it isn't too cold, but I think food that can all be cooked in one-pot is probably best suited to British weather anyway. So far, I've got sausages and lentils, a chicken curry and a noodle soup planned. Wish me luck! I also think it's rather telling of the boundlessness of my greed when I say that I'm really excited about future use of the portable stove we bought, because it means steamboat and other tabletop-dining fun.