Simple seared fennel & pumpkin salad
The prices of fennel bulbs in Sydney almost makes me wonder if they are secretly a staple food in Australia. It took me a while to reach for one though, because normally I only consider fennel bulb edible if it’s shaved paper thin or caramelised in the oven Ottolenghi-style, but when the only knives you have are blunt as hell and you don’t have an hour to roast a side dish…well, it turns out great discoveries can be made.
I’ve been enjoying thickly sliced fennel bulb that is seared whilst covered in the pan, which keeps it refreshing but a little sweet with a hum of aniseed, rather than a blast. It’s like lazy roasted fennel basically. It retains a slippery crunch as long as you sear it on a high-ish heat and not for so long that it goes limp and squishy (if this happens, you could potentially puree it and stir through some cream cheese for an interesting dip). The end result reminds me a little of a sweeter, more fragrant version of celery. It also doesn’t require a mandoline, mad knife skills, slow stewing or cooking then roasting!
The seared fennel is glorious with crumbled feta or haloumi as pictured above, with some pumpkin and carrots cooked the same way as the fennel to bring out their sweetness. For extra health brownie points I added some butter beans and crunchy buttery lettuce, and chowed it all down with some focaccia. You can take it in whatever direction you like, but the fennel, pumpkin and/or carrots, and some tangy white cheese are a lovely combination. The pasta version (minus the lettuce) with feta is wonderful, because all the flavoured oils and feta coat the pasta for a lovely sweet/salty dish that doesn’t need any extra seasoning. You could go for kalamata or green olives that have been marinated in lemon for an equally yummy vegan option too.
Seared fennel & pumpkin salad
makes as much or as little as you like, but the quantities below make enough for 2 as a main with some bread or tossed with cooked pasta
- 1/2 large fennel bulb, thickly sliced (across the lines)
- about 2c peeled pumpkin,* cut into triangularish** chunks about 1″ (2.5cm)
- optional: 1 carrot, cut into bite size chunks (slightly smaller than the pumpkin is fine)
- 150-200g feta, crumbled, or haloumi slices seared on two sides
- optional: greens as a bed, or the fennel greens as a garnish
*Go for butternut, buttercup, or crown pumpkin, that is deeply orange. Avoid yellowy or pale orange pumpkin, which will not be very sweet.
**Some corners will cook faster and these help the pumpkin form a bit of a sauce when tossed with everything else. If this messy approach doesn’t wash well with you, cut into cubes.
Add about 2-3 Tbs oil to a large frying pan (it is essential that the veges aren’t stacked too high), add pumpkin and carrot, cover and let cook on medium high heat until the bottoms of the vege chunks start going golden brown. Add a small splash of water, stir, cover again and cook until brown on the underside. Test for doneness with a small sharp knife (or try a piece). It’s ok if they are ever-so-slightly undercooked, as they will keep cooking a bit as they cool. Remove from pan.
Cook fennel the same way. Turn off the heat and add the pumpkin back into the pan, along with pasta if using. Add most of the feta/haloumi and stir. Plate (place on top of salad greens if using) and top with remaining feta and fennel greens if using.
I picked up some amaranth flakes and am using them left right and centre! I feel like it deserves its own post but feel free to email me with any ideas and I’ll mention them as well (with credit of course!).