Ever eat fennel as a kid? Not me. I was a peas-only, brussel sprouting-detesting kind of kid. I don't mind brussel sprouts these days, although it took a spell of commercial vegie picking to convert me. The only way to eat them is to arise at sparrow fart, when a heavy frost lies upon the ground, and to pick the baby sprouts as the sun peeks above the horizon and provides enough light to work by. When the stems are icy cold, the sprouts snap off cleanly and stay fresh and crispy. It's hell on the hands, but sprouts require that level of dedication to perform for your taste buds.
Take those fresh, crisp, cold sprouts and boil or steam them lightly - just enough to remove most of the crunch - and then douse them with salt and butter. Eat. If they make you feel that way, fart. Enjoy. The eating that is.
The things that we regularly get in the shops are a parody of a proper sprout - they remind me of mini-cabbages and have the flavour of old, wet socks. No wonder kids refuse to eat them. I refuse to eat them most of the time.
Fennel was another one of those things that I turned my nose up as a kid, possibly because mum insisted on boiling it to death and serving it like a limp face cloth. It's taken me 25 years to get over that.
Tonight, I made a fennel gratin. It was dead easy.
To start with, I chopped the fennel up so that it would fit nicely into a gratin dish - I chopped it roughly into 8 or 10 pieces. It turns out that I used the lid of a gratin dish, but that made no difference. After buttering the lid and laying out the fennel and making the cheese sauce, I had a glance at the recipe and found that you are supposed to simmer the fennel for 10 minutes or so first, and then drain well.
Oops. Good thing the sauce was still in the pot, and not all over the fennel.
So I boiled it, drained it, drained it some more and laid it out again. Funny how it didn't lay itself out perfectly the 2nd time around. On went the sauce - a basic white sauce with whatever cheese I could find in the fridge (which did not include Gruyere, which is what it really needed) and some nutmeg. Not enough nutmeg. Or nutmeg that was no longer fresh.
Over the top of that went some breadcrumbs. More grated cheese should have been sprinkled on with the breadcrumbs, but I had run out of cheese. Into the oven it went, half-cheesed.
Out it came half an hour later, crispy and crunchy on top and smelling delightfully of aniseed. And not of nutmeg. The nutmeg must have had it.
The kids thought it looked and smelled disgusting. That's their bad luck. It all went - not even any leftovers for lunch tomorrow. The kids gave me the same look I used to give my parents - how can you eat that stuff?
I will have to make them meatloaf next.