I love fennel both raw and cooked and this dish is something my mum used to make when I was a child and I remember it being one of my favourites. It was loaded with dairy products though - mascarpone being the main ingredient - and I’ve been wanting to turn it into a fully plant based, but equally delicious dish for a while. So here it is, rich and creamy like the original, yet as good as free of saturated fats. Makes a great lunch on it’s own or serve with a side salad and a slice of crusty bread for a more substantial dinner.
What you need:
4 large fennel bulbs – washed and ends cut off
4 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot – finely chopped
20 walnuts – broken into pieces and dry roasted
150g cashew nuts – soaked in boiled water for 15mins
1 tin butterbeans – drained and rinsed
Pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
How you do it:
Set a large pan of lightly salted water to boil.
In a bowl pour a kettle of boiled water over the cashew nuts and leave them soaking for at least 15mins.
Break your walnuts into pieces and dry roast them in a frying pan until you start to get a rich, nutty smell (give them an occasional shake or stir to make sure they don’t burn, this will only take a few minutes).
Put aside for later, keeping the frying pan out.
Half your fennel bulbs and gently carve out the inner layers, leaving only the outside “shell”.
Chop all the fennel “cores” into small cubes.
In the same frying pan heat up the olive oil before adding the shallot and fennel cubes and - reducing the heat – fry everything until the fennel softens (approx. 10-15mins).
Put your fennel “shells” into the pan with boiling water and reduce the heat.
Boil them until they start to soften, but without getting too mushy (occasionally check with a sharp knive).
Drain and put aside, keeping at least two ladles of fennel stock.
Now on to the cashew mascarpone.
Drain the cashews and add the butterbeans and a ladle of fennel stock.
In a food processor or with a handheld blender whizz everything until you have a smooth, creamy consistency, adding a more fennel stock if necessary (it should be smooth and well combined, but not runny).
Add nutmeg, nutritional yeast and salt and blend for a further 30 seconds.
Pour it into the frying pan and - on low heat - mix it with the fennel-shallot mix.
Add the roasted walnut pieces.
Reheat your fennel “shells” briefly in the microwave (if necessary), fill with your creamy fennel and walnut “mascarpone” and serve with a sprinkle of coarse black pepper (optional).