Fennel is one of the handful of vegetables that can influence a main course pairing - almost always for the better. Its aniseed flavour seems to have a pronounced affinity with many wines, especially whites. Here are some suggested matches with recipes that two British chefs have published this weekend - Gordon Ramsay in the Times and Skye Gyngell in the Independent on Sunday.
Roast pork belly with roasted fennel
Fennel is a brilliant foil for the fattiness of pork and here it’s used both as a spice to season the meat and roast alongside the meat with more fennel seeds, chilli and lemon juice and peel. The latter, particularly, are punchy flavours that need an assertive wine as an accompaniment. I’d be inclined to turn to Italy for an intensely flavoured contemporary dry white such as a Greco di Tufo from Feudi di San Gregorio or, if you prefer red, a Chianti Classico.
Salad of rocket, cooked spinach and shaved fennel
Here a couple of other ingredients vie with the fennel for attention, the cooked spinach and the lemon zest and juice used to dress it. There’s also wine-friendly parmesan (though 100g, I have to say, sounds an awful lot). I think I’d recommend a dry white again here, probably Italian again (Italian whites and fennel seem to have a real affinity) and something quite straightforward like a Verdicchio or even a good Soave (I was drinking a Pieropan Soave last night with an intensely lemony dressing and it worked really well)
Sea bass with fennel pure
A dream dish for white burgundy lovers. There’s butter and cream in the pure as well as fennel which are the perfect foil for a classy Chardonnay. Oaked white Bordeaux would work too.
Pan-roasted trout and caramelised fennel with a watercress and hazelnut salad
Quite a complex dish. The fennel is given a sweet-sour treatment with sugar and sherry vinegar and the salad is dressed with a dressing that includes hazelnut oil which adds to the nuttiness of the salad. I’d actually enjoy a lightly chilled dry amontillado or palo cortado with this but realise that wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. A oaked (but not over-oaky) Chardonnay would also be an enjoyable match. The oak should pick up on the nuts.
Paprika pork chops with fennel and apple coleslaw
Actually the pork chops are not just seasoned with paprika but chilli powder, dark muscovado sugar, star anise, cinnamon and rosemary and the salad has a hot dressing that includes sugar and cider vinegar so the fennel plays second fiddle really. Winewise I’d probably go for a robust Côtes du Rhône Villages like a Vacquéyras but actually this is more a beer dish than a wine one. An amber ale or lager would hit the spot perfectly, I think.
Chilled fennel and melon soup with crab garnish
A dressy cold soup that will also have sweet and savoury notes. The fennel and melon will probably cancel each other out as a dominant influence so I’d take the crab as the ingredient to match. Spanish Albariño is a pretty safe bet with soups and should go well with both the crab and the soup.