Gill Meller’s taste of Dorset: Roast fennel and potatoes with pesto

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Gill Meller

5 min read

Award-winning food writer and River Cottage chef Gill Meller has been exploring the flavours of Dorset for us. Here, he picks out a favourite recipe for a light summer supper.

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‘The trick (well, it’s hardly a trick) to getting this lovely, summery dish just right, is to cover the tray while it has the initial cooking time in the oven. This keeps all the steam inside, which helps to tenderise the fennel and potatoes beautifully. Then, it’s just a question of uncovering and caramelising the vegetables before you serve them. I like to spoon over a bright green and garlicky basil pesto, but dots of a fiery harissa would work well, or even a salty tapenade or lemony mayonnaise.’


Serves 6 

4 fennel bulbs 

500g (1lb 2oz) new potatoes, scrubbed, then halved if large 

2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed 

finely grated zest of 1 lemon 

3-4 thyme sprigs, leaves stripped 

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 





for the pesto 

40g (1½oz) sunflower seeds 

1 small garlic clove 

75g (2½oz) mature cheddar or hard goat’s cheese, finely grated 

good pinch of fine sea salt 

1 large handful of basil 

100ml (3½fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil 


First, make the pesto. Place a dry frying pan on a medium heat. Add the sunflower seeds and cook, stirring regularly, for a few minutes, until they’re toasted and fragrant. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. 

Place the cooled, toasted seeds in a food processor with the garlic, cheese and salt. Pulse until you have a fairly fine-ish consistency. Throw in the basil and pulse until well chopped, then gradually add the oil. When everything is combined to a nice, even texture, check the seasoning and spoon the pesto out into a bowl. Set aside while you make the vegetables. 

 Trim the hard base from the fennel and trim the stalk tops back. Cut the bulbs into eighths and place them in a roasting tin with the potatoes, crushed fennel seeds, and the lemon zest and thyme. Trickle over the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover the dish tightly with foil and place in the oven to roast for 1 hour, then remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the potatoes and fennel look golden and delicious and are beginning to crisp around the edges. 

Spoon everything out onto a warm serving platter or dish and dot over the pesto before serving. 


View Gill Meller’s taste of Dorset food and drink guide here >

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All photography (c) Andrew Montgomery.

Gill Meller

Gill Meller is a chef, award-winning food writer, food stylist and cookery teacher who lives and works in Dorset. Gill works closely with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and River Cottage. He appears regularly on the celebrated Channel 4 series, and teaches both at the River Cottage Cookery School and internationally. A contributor to the Observer, Guardian, Waitrose Food, Telegraph, Delicious and Country Living to name but a few. Gill's first book, Gather (2016), won the Fortnum & Mason Award for Best Debut Food Book, and both Time (2018) and Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower (2020) were nominated for the Guild of Food Writers Cookbook of the Year. He is also the author of the River Cottage Handbook on Outdoor Cooking and his latest book, 'Outside recipes for a wilder way of eating' is available now. 
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