Gently fry the onion in oil for 10 to 15 minutes, and then add the fennel, the liquid and cumin and coriander. Continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent sticking. Season to taste with the salt and pepper, and stir in the fruit and nuts. Spoon the mixture onto plates, and serve hot, warm or cold, with a few olives and a couple of drained sardines on top of each. Use the feathery fennel tops for garnish.
For a more substantial first course, heap the mixture on top of hot pitta bread, and for a more elaborate dish, on rounds of pre-baked pastry enriched with egg yolk and made very short and crisp with plenty of butter or vegetable shortening.
Using some of the same ingredients, a very quick and refreshing starter can be made by thinly slicing round fennel bulbs, spreading them with olive paste, and topping with a spoonful of thick yoghurt.
© 2000 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.