Fennel has shown up at the farmers’ markets here. I have always wanted to love fennel but I have always found it to be incredibly finicky. You can shave it raw for a nice refreshing salad but to get fennel cooked so that it is firm without being too crunchy or too soggy is something that has eluded me. Thought of perfectly cooked fennel, deeply caramelized keeps me coming back to try.
I have read a lot about the merits of sous vide for cooking meat and fish. I haven’t, however, read a lot about sous vide and vegetables. It turns out that cooking sous vide allows for better retention of vitamins (I even found a study) and allows you to force desired flavorings into the food in a remarkable way (edible cocktails anyone?). In the case of fennel you can cook it until it is done but still firm and then quickly sear it in a pan and enjoy some of the best fennel I have ever had.
Carmelized Fennel (Borrowing heavily from Keller’s Under Pressure)
Sachet: Bay leaf, thyme, pepper corns, star anise
Two medium fennel bulbs
Chop off the fennel tops. Remove any damaged leaves from the fennel leaves and/or peel the outside. Slice the fennel into 1/2 inch sized wedges trying to keep a piece of the core for each wedge. Toss the fennel with some pernod, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Vacuum seal with a sachet. In my case I used two bags each with a sachet. Cook at 85.5 C for 40-60 minutes until tender. I was closer to 60. Pull them out of the bags and pat dry and then sear in a skillet with some canola oil.
I added them to a “no kids eating dinner” salad with beans and radishes from the garden, lettuce from the market, bread toasted in butter, tuna, olives, and a little cheese. I tossed all the ingredients separately with a champagne vinegar and honey dressing to taste adjusting salt and pepper accordingly. The fennel had the wonderful deep flavor I’ve always wanted with just the right texture. Wonderful.
Every cook seems to have them. There may be a good reason for one or perhaps it is just fear of the unknown for another. I’m talking about demons of course. In particular cooking demons. A friend of mine had the same demon and her courage encouraged me to face one of mine: artichokes. I’ve never been particular keen on working with artichokes. Their thorny demeanor coupled with their extensive prep time and predisposition to turn an unsightly gray seemed enough to focus on other foods. I resolved to keep turning artichokes this season until the demon had been excised. For the most part I’ve been sous-viding them with herbs, lemon and olive oil. They are quick to cook that way and taste great. This week I decided to go for broke and attempt a version I had recently at a restaurant called Locanda here in San Francisco. In truth the meal was not as good as I had hoped but it did start with what they call a Jewish Style Artichoke and it was amazing. This is a recipe that apparently traces back to Jewish cooking in Rome but really it is a fancy way of saying deep fried artichokes. And the frying happens in olive oil.
The recipe is simple enough, clean your artichokes as usual. Mine were excellent ones from Fat Cabbage Farm. I tried to open the “blossom” a bit with my fingertips by pulling outward and then dropped them into some iced, acidulated water. I then heated some olive oil for frying. Because it is so expensive I opted to only go about one to one and half inches deep and to cut the artichokes in half but they are traditionally served whole. Before I cut them I placed them top down on the cutting board and pushed to spread them open even further. The olive oil was a bit too hot when I put them in but I just fried them until I could pierce them very easily and put them out to drain. I then sprinkled some salt and lemon on them and my wife and I ate them before they cooled. The leaves taste like nutty potato chips and have this wonderful crunchy texture. The inside is meaty artichoke all the way. Excellent. Give them a try!
In other news I am doing well. Apologies for not writing in so long but work and life have been getting in the way. The garden is looking great with the help of some early warm weather. I have planted eighteen tomato plants which I will probably regret later but so far I’m only excited. Seven are for sauce. I call them “the girls” since I usually plant early girls for this. This year I subbed in a couple “valley girls.” How can you pass on a name like that? I am trying a new growing technique for these which is to grown them up a string that you can lower as the season progresses.
I’ll let you know how that goes. So far signs are good.