The humble Umbelliferae

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.

Stunted parsnips (and beetroot) from the patch

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!


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5 Responses to The humble Umbelliferae

  1. Kavey says:

    Love the idea of an “umbel king” – made me smile.

  2. Zoe says:

    Hi there,
    Just found your blog the other day and now follow on Fbook. I feel moved to say – I love fennel! Thanks for introducing me to it’s proper.. name and family. Roast fennel is the tops for me, the King of roast moments. When I made a fennel gratin though, I found the technique doesn’t really bring out enough.. fennel-y-ness for me. It was bland and I was disappointed. Now I can’t stop roasting it. Any other ideas?

  3. saladclub says:

    All hail king fennel! I can’t get enough of the stuff. To maximise the fennel impact in a gratin I tend to sweat the slices in a pan with some pancetta and a little olive oil for about half an hour then take it off the heat, pour in some cream and tip it all over some sliced sweet potatoes. Top with parmesan (and breadcrumbs if you can be bothered) and roast until golden and crisp on top.

  4. pip says:

    the carrot and cumin hummus sounds just right 🙂
    … I love dill and I love parsnips… maybe I’ll try them together 🙂

  5. Keith says:

    This is indeed a very interesting post and has inspired me to surreptitiously slip some celery into a future dish so that Lolli (my better half who despises the stuff) can wolf it down with an innocent gusto. I actually like it raw, even if I’m being conventional by having it in a Waldorf salad. That being said, I love your point about bloody Marys 😉

    I may have to try harder with fennel though – it has, for the same reason as celery, never crossed the threshold of chez Wennie, although it’s seeds are knowingly added into home made dhansak with little resistance.

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