ROASTED RED PEPPERS STUFFED with FENNEL

SERVES 4 TO 6 PEOPLE AS A FIRST COURSE

The dish needs lots of really good bread as there’s always a profusion of fragrant juices.

4 large red peppers

2 small bulbs fennel

1 X 14 oz (400 g) tin Italian plum tomatoes

1 rounded teaspoon mixed pepper berries

¾ teaspoon whole coriander seeds

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

8 dessert spoons good quality olive oil

The juice of ½ lemon

Rock salt

You will need a shallow baking sheet (I use a Swiss roll tin).

PREHEAT THE OVEN TO GAS MARK 4, 350 ° F (180 ° C)

Slice each pepper in half lengthways, cutting right through the green stalk end and leaving it intact; though it won’t be eaten, it adds much to the look of the thing. Remove all the seeds. Place the pepper halves on the baking sheet, then drain the tomatoes (you don’t need the juice), and divide them into eight equal portions, placing each portion inside a pepper half. Now pare off any brownish bits of fennel with your sharpest knife and cut the bulbs first into quarters and then again into eighths, carefully keeping the layers attached to the root ends. Now put them in a saucepan with a little salt, pour boiling water on them and blanch them for 5 minutes. Then drain them in a colander and, as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, arrange two slices in each pepper half. Sprinkle 1 dessert spoon olive oil over each one, using a brush to brush the oil round the edges and sides of the peppers. Next lightly crush the pepper berries, coriander and fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar or rolling pin and bowl, sprinkle these evenly all over the fennel and peppers, and finish off with a grinding of rock salt. Then bake the peppers for approximately 1 hour on a high shelf in the oven until they are soft and the skin wrinkled and nicely tinged with brown. After removing them from the oven, sprinkle the lemon juice all over, cool and serve garnished with a little finely chopped spring onion or as they are.

NOTE: if you want to make the peppers ahead of time, cover with foil after cooling but don’t refrigerate them as this spoils the fragrant flavour.