Inspiration

18 12 2008

It always pops up in the unlikeliest places, the most unexpected times.  I often find myself wandering the market aimlessly, without a clue as to what to do with any of the gorgeous produce on display.  And then I’ll be lying in bed, or standing in line at the post office, and all of a sudden my brain shouts, “Shrimp and chorizo frittata!  With green salad and sweet onion vinaigrette!”  This can be brought on by pondering the contents of the still-malfunctioning fridge (which, as of this afternoon, FINALLY, has been fixed – hooray!), but that takes a little more focus.  And then there’s the time you read a recipe in a magazine, cookbook, or food blog, and you realize you have all the ingredients in the kitchen already.  This is rare and awesome.  Usually it’s more like you read a recipe, decide you must have it right now, and run to the store for ingredients despite the rapidly wilting spinach in the fridge.

an enduring favorite

This dinner definitely falls into the latter category.  I read this post on [eatingclub] vancouver, and I loved the sound of a creamy fennel sauce on pasta.  Plus I am a total sucker for wild mushrooms, so it was a done deal.  I’m glad they didn’t post an actual recipe, that way free interpretation is much easier.

These girolles were straight from the forest

Like when I realized I didn’t have any roasted garlic, didn’t feel like making any, and didn’t care.  I just caramelized the fennel a bit to get that deep sweet flavor, then braised it in white wine until it was very tender.  With the aid of my trusty immersion blender, I puréed the fennel into a thick sauce.

Braised fennel sauce

I finished it with a little cream, and kept it warm while I sautéed the girolles with a little fresh parsley.

Sautéeing girolles

I stirred it all up with some whole-wheat spaghetti, garnished with some reserved fennel fronds (I just love how delicate they are!) and dinner was served.

Pasta with braised fennel cream sauce and girolles

Thanks for the inspiration, ladies!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Fennel Focaccia

29 09 2008

It kind of looks like an onion, with celery growing out the top, and dill instead of leaves.

I must admit, I was pretty excited when I saw the ingredients for this month’s Foodie Joust: Fennel, Dairy, and Parsley.  I’ve never been a fan of licorice or anise-flavored anything, but sometime over the last couple of years I fell in love with fresh fennel.  The anise-y-ness is mild enough to be tolerable, and it evolves into a subtle sweetness when the fennel is cooked.  So I immediately jotted down four or five recipe ideas – some old favorites, some new inventions – and ran them by Nick.  He wanted to try the focaccia with caramelized fennel, parsley, and goat cheese, so I started working on a focaccia recipe.

Dimpled focaccia dough

I have a little bit of starter going in my fridge for bread-baking purposes, and I thought it would give my focaccia the character that so many recipes seem to lack.  I have also determined that the potato in focaccia dough is by no means optional.  It gives the finished bread an unmistakable texture and helps to keep it moist, too.  And it turns out that focaccia is pretty fun to make.  Sure, it takes a while, but you can use all that rising time to prep your toppings, cook dinner, answer emails, do a little online shopping… or whatever it is you like to do in idle moments at home.

Before...

For this recipe, I essentially braised the fennel:  I sliced it thin, browned it in olive oil, then threw in some white wine and tarragon vinegar and let it cook down until the liquid was gone and the fennel was tender.  I figured the caramelization process could finish in the oven.  As for the parsley, I chopped it up with the fronds from the fennel andmade a sort of paste with a little olive oil.  And the cheese?  Well, I picked up an awesome little fresh raw-milk chèvre at the market.  It had a much fuller and more distinctly goat-y flavor than your average fresh goat cheese, and it stood up well to the bold flavors imparted by the fennel and the parsley.

So head on over to the Leftover Queen’s forum and vote for me!  (The voting should start on Thursday, October 2nd, and ends on the 5th.)  Keep reading for the recipe…

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Polenta, Two Ways

18 04 2008

I recently discovered a number of shops nearby which sell beans, grains, and so on in bulk from large sacks.  Apart from the quaintness of it all, you can get some really cheap staples as well as some cool, harder-to-find items.  I had been harboring a latent polenta hankering for a while, and when I walked into the first of these shops (which also happened to have the smallest selection, it turns out) I was struck by the variety of different sizes available for each grain.  Not only is the polenta at the grocery store expensive, it’s downright powdery.  I prefer a coarser grind, both for flavor and texture.   So I was delighted to find a range of different cornmeal grinds.  I bought two bags, one very coarse, one medium.

The dish I had in mind was an Italian-style braised chicken with spring vegetables, namely fennel.  I got some cheap chicken leg quarters from a butcher and brought them home to cook.

Browning the chicken

The first step in any good braise is to get the meat nice and brown to build up the fond.  Once my chicken legs were deeply bronzed on both sides, I moved them to a plate to cool so I could remove the skin.  (Chicken skin makes for some tasty fond, but you don’t want all that extra grease in your final dish.)  I added sliced onion and fennel to the still hot pan and used the moisture released to scrape up the browned bits.

Sweating the vegetables

I also added salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and dried oregano to the pot.  While the vegetables softened, I went about the slippery task of removing the skin from the chicken leg quarters.  Once they had been denuded I returned them to the pot, along with a can of diced tomatoes, some red wine, and water to just about cover everything.

Braising the chicken

There were probably a couple cloves of garlic and a bay leaf thrown in somewhere along the way.  I partially covered the pot and turned the heat to low to let it simmer while I cleaned up the mess I had made so far and got the polenta going.  The beauty of braising chicken is that it takes about half as long as pork or beef, so you can have a really flavorful stew in about an hour and a half.

For the polenta I followed the recipe I’ve been using since culinary school.  Cream, stock, salt, white pepper, polenta.  I chose the medium polenta because I was hungry and figured it would cook faster.

Perfect polenta, every time.

While the polenta was simmering, I removed the chicken from the pot and pulled the meat off the bones.  This didn’t take much effort, as the chicken was nice and tender by this point.  I also reduced a little balsamic vinegar on the stove and stirred that into the stew with the chicken pieces.

This is really just a variation on a recipe I often make in the winter, with Swiss chard added at the end and no fennel.  It came out every bit as good as I had hoped, and was the perfect meal for a rainy evening.

Braised Chicken and Fennel with Soft Polenta

But I still had plenty of polenta…

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