Category Archives: Fennel

Red, White and Waldorf.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

“You’ve got to serve something red, white and blue,” says Valerie, a U.S.Department of State employee by day, farmer on nights and weekends (God, I love DC!). We were discussing the catering menu I was planning in celebration of a friend’s recent citizenship.

“What’s blue besides blueberries,” I thought. “Besides, they’re not locally in season yet.”

So, I settled for red and white, 2/3 of the way there. My homage to the salad Oscar Tschirky created for the Waldorf Hotel would have to make up the balance. Sweet strawberries replaced apple, while crisp fennel stood in for celery. Toasted pepitas lent warmth in place of walnuts and a sweet, light vinaigrette displaced heavier mayonnaise as the dressing.

Add a handful of the June’s first tart-sweet blueberries, and you may just have this season’s superlative summer salad.

Strawberry And Shaved Fennel Salad

Serves 6

Washed StrawberriesFor dressing:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup White Balsamic or Tropical Spice* vinegar
  • 2/3 cup grape seed, vegetable or Avocado* oil

For salad:

  • 1/2 cup pepitas*
  • 2 cups hulled, sliced strawberries
  • 2 fennel bulbs thinly sliced
  • 1 tbs fennel fronts, finely chopped
  • 2 mint leaves, finely chopped

*We’ve been shopping at Sapore again! A mild tasting oil is important here. Olive oils will overpower the other flavors. Pepitas are raw pumpkin seeds. Smooth and green, you will find them with other packaged nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Substitute toasted sunflower seeds if you can’t find them.

Directions:

  • Combine shallot, sugar, mustard and salt in a bowl with vinegar. Whisk together.
  • Toast pepitas in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing often to prevent burning. Once you hear them start to pop, toast for a minute longer until at least 1/3 of the seeds are browned on 1 side.
  • Combine strawberries, fennel, fennel fronds and mint in a separate bowl. Toss together.
  • Whisk oil into dressing to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Season dressing to taste and toss with salad.
  • Top with toasted pepitas.
  • Can be served alone or over greens like baby spinach or butter lettuce.
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Of record.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Five or six years ago, my parents’ newspaper changed, and not for the better. The wonderful, large pages got smaller, and the bylines all read AP. Now, the Associated Press is an important news source, and do a much better job at covering Washington politics and major events around the country then the small writing staff in Springfield, MA, but I miss garden writers gardening in the same weather and soil that I am and reporters intimately knowledgeable of local politics.

The local Gazette and Penny Saver, still employing staff to cover local politics, sports, business and schools, have become local publications of record. While DC’s local paper is a national paper of record, we are also blessed with smaller papers employing writers who are embedded in our city. They cover the issues that impact our neighborhoods and the people who make them special.

Last week, we had the opportunity to host a writer from DC’s Hill Rag at #testkitchen. She joined us as we refined a recipe I had presented at an American University health and wellness event the day before. Annette joined right in helping to taste recipes and suggest ingredients and, as always, many palates make a stronger dish. Look for Annette’s write up in the May issue of the Hill Rag. In the meantime, enjoy this salad, and many thanks to the students, faculty and staff at AU for tasting it last Wednesday afternoon.

Lemongrass Fennel Orange Salad

For dressing:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup Lemongrass or other light, sweet vinegar*
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 2/3 cup Avocado or other neutral flavored oil*

*This is another chance to shop online or in person at Sapore Oil and vinegar. A strong olive oil will overpower these ingredients, so use something neutral like avocado, grapeseed or vegetable oil. For a vinegar, use something light and sweet. Unseasoned rice wine vinegar is easily available. This is also a good opportunity to break out the gift bottle of Pear Chardonnay or other fruit-wine vinegar that’s aging in your pantry.

For salad:

  • 1 head fennel, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 2 heads butter lettuce, gently chopped in pieces*
  • 1 orange, peeled and sectioned, sliced or chopped

*My big meathooks rough up easily bruised butter lettuce, so I chop mine gently.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Directions:

  • Make dressing. Whisk together shallot, vinegar and honey with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
  • Whisk in oil in a thin stream to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Toss together fennel, orange and cherries. Lightly dress with 1/4 cup dressing.
  • Lightly dress lettuce with 1/4 cup dressing.
  • Plate lettuce, topped with fennel mixture.

I’m still wearing white shoes.

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*Sincere thanks to Jenny Lehman for this beautiful photo of the soup she made at home from this recipe.

Spring and fall in Washington easily compensate for summer’s most humid days and the city’s damp, insipid attempt at winter. One of the great joys of these seasons is their length. In New England, where I grew up, spring announces itself with a six-week flurry of daffodils, Forsythia and Rhododendron that fade as quickly as they arrive. DC’s season’s last months, lingering over spring flowers and the long change to autumn, marked by crisp leaves, bright mums and jaunty scarves and caps.

Why force it then? I’m puzzled by the appearance of pants and sweaters on the first 75 degree day in September while I’m still enjoying the end of summer in shorts and a tee. I feel the same way about food. Hearty soups are inappropriate on a warm, humid day no matter what date the calendar marks.

Presented with the year’s first Delicata squash, I wanted to serve up a soup that was light and celebrated this cultivar’s sweet, floral notes*, saving rich, sugary Hubbards and Kabocha’s for colder weather. A double stock, flavored with anise-y fennel, the season’s last tomatoes and earthy Shitakes bring out the lighter notes in Delicata. Using the seed mass beefs up the squash taste. This soup delivers so many layers of flavor, for so little work, the first bite caught me by surprise. Farm-fresh butter adds welcome richness. In a rare decision, we left out vinegar. Even rich balsamic dulled Delicata’s delicate sugars.

*”Seriously, floral notes and light sweetness? Next you’ll be telling me about lingonberry accents in my Pinot.” My parents and I actually conducted a squash tasting at home one night. That’s just how we roll.

Delicata Squash Fennel Soup

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-1.5 cups fennel stems and fronds
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4-6 Shitake mushrooms, stems and caps
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 6 parsley stems, about 3″ each
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1” cubes. Seed mass reserved.
  • 1-2 tbs butter

Directions:

  • While you chop the squash and onions, simmer the vegetable stock with fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs and bay leaves for 20-30 minutes.
  • Warm oil in a 4qt soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook one minute until fragrant.
  • Add squash and sauté 5-7 minutes.
  • Strain the stock into the vegetables and cook until squash is easily pierced through with a fork or tip of a knife.
  • Purée soup in a food mill or with an immersion blender. I prefer a food mill for this soup because of the smoother purée it produces.
  • Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

By request.

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Thanks for asking.

Fennel has a light anise flavor that just tastes so darn fresh. Add crisp sweet apple and sharp radish. Toss with a tart, buttery lemon vinaigrette warmed with floral coriander. It’s a light start to a heavy meal. A bright compliment to a richly sauced main of chicken or pork. It’s an indulgent brunch paired with farm-fresh eggs and  good bread spread with rich butter.

Fennel and Apple Salad

Dress this salad lightly to keep the flavors balanced.

Ingredients:
For salad:

  • 1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 apple, julienned
  • 3-4 radishes, julienned
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

For dressing:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • Olive oil – the good stuff!

Directions:

  • Mix together shallot, lemon juice, coriander and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • Toss fennel, apple, radishes and parsley in a large bowl.
  • In a steady stream, whisk olive oil into the lemon juice, shallot mixture.
  • Lightly dress the salad to taste. Add an extra squeeze of lemon juice or pinch of salt if needed.

A weekend in the country.

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I don’t remember what cookbook this was inspired by, but it remains one of the bright moments in a wonderful weekend six years ago. It had been a long winter at work and I needed to recharge. My friend Cliff and I jumped in the car and headed to his home near the coast in Delaware for a weekend of cooking.

Friday night after leaving the city, we grabbed dinner on the road, and arrived for an evening spent pouring through cook books over several bottles of wine. With our menu planned – a random collection of things that sounded delicious and fun – we went to bed.

The rest of the weekend was pure joy and relaxation. Lazy hours combing stores for the perfect ingredients, a quick stop at a cooking store for a new tool or two, and many hours in the kitchen, prepping, peeling, chopping and cooking. We would talk through the perfect plating for each dish and eat them, one-by-one, as they were finished.

The weekend was just two days – we drove home Sunday night – but it seemed like a month. I still remember waking up to see the sun shining through the fields out back, ready for spring planting. Hot cups of coffee in the cold morning kitchen. A lot of laughter, and good food.

Shaved Fennel, Mushroom and Parmesan Salad

Get your mandoline out for this one. While you can make a perfectly serviceable salad with some deft knife work, there is a delicate texture and light balance that can only be achieved by slicing the ingredients paper thin.

Ingredients:
Two of us devoured this last Sunday night, but it would easily serve four as a side or first course.

For dressing:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice – about 1 lemon
  • Olive oil – the good stuff!

For salad:

  • 1 fennel bulb, tops removed, greens reserved.
  • 6 large white button mushrooms
  • 2-3 ounces great quality parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Start the dressing: mix the shallot in a bowl with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Set aside.
  • Cut the fennel bulb in half, cutting from top to bottom. Remove the tough core at the base.
  • Slice the tough bases off the mushroom stems.
  • Using your mandolin, shave the fennel and mushrooms paper thin. For the fennel, shave the bulb from top to bottom, not sideways. For the mushrooms, slice sideways, so you get cross sections of the mushrooms.
  • Using a vegetable peeler, peel the Parmesan into thin shavings.
  • Chop some of the reserved fennel fronds – the fine, green bits – and toss one tablespoonful with the fennel ,mushroom and parmesan.
  • Finish the dressing by whisking olive oil in a gentle stream. About 1/2 cup. Taste it along the way by dipping in a little fennel and mushroom. If it is too sharp, add a little more oil, if it gets too fatty, add a little more lemon juice.
  • Serve mounded on a plate, garnished with a small spring of fennel fronds.