My Grandfather-in-law, a groundbreaking botanist in his day, taught me about the wonderful world of Umbelliferae over lunch in the summer. The Umbelliferae are a family of aromatic plants with umbels of flowers radiating from the stem resembling a green (you guessed it) umbrella. Ever since that lunch I have been enchanted by those words and all things umbelliferous. Many of my favourite herbs, vegetables and seeds come from this wholesome family: carrots, parsnips, parsley, coriander, dill, cumin, caraway, the much maligned celery, and fennel, the umbel king.
It was only after this conversation that I realised how often we combine these wonderfully fragrant plants here at Salad Club. They really do belong together. The classic carrot and coriander is deservedly popular, whether in a comforting soup, or with roasted peanuts and sesame oil in a crisp, Thai salad. Then there’s Ellie’s delectable carrot and cumin hummus, or parsnips blanched then roasted and tossed with a slab of parsley butter. I’ve even snuck celery into many a celery-hater’s supper – I agree it should never be seen raw (unless sticking out of a bloody mary) but if chopped finely and subjected to a slow and low sweating it will release a deep herby sweetness ideal for starting off any pasta sauce or stew.
Today though, it’s fennel on my mind. This spicy fennel risotto from Mr Oliver is amazing and frequents our table. I recently made a delicious sweet potato, fennel, pancetta and parmesan gratin but I was too hungry for photographs. Here’s the bulbous root again, with younger sister parsley, atop a warm olive and red onion bruschetta served with drinks at one of our private suppers. Fennel and his extended family seem to have moved into my kitchen!