Thursday, October 22, 2009
FALL FEASTING: PART I
(Photo: E.F.R.'s Fennel and Orange Salad, Baked Apples and Rosemary Pork Chops, Fennel and Garbanzo Stew, Acorn Squash with Couscous Stuffing, Twice Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, and Sunflower Seed Cookies)
It's been raining here in Lincoln, Nebraska so I thought this gloomy gray Thursday was perfect for cooking up a storm. I've cooked enough food for nearly a week, using my day off to help me make better choices when I'm working. I've also been experimenting with a vegetable I've avoided my entire life until this week: fennel.
Fennel is a bulb with a delicate anise flavor, like an extremely mild black licorice. It's crunchy like celery, but doesn't have the salty aftertaste. Fennel can be cooked or eaten raw. Today, I experimented with both a cooked and uncooked fennel recipe. I have to say, the results were pretty spectacular (if I do say so for myself).
This week, I took advantage of seasonal sales on specific vegetables and fruits, particularly fennel, apples and gourds. This time of year, squash and pumpkin are on sale, and the specials on apples have been awesome. I've also been thinking more about foods like couscous and dried fruits, most notably apricots and prunes (the latter gets a bad rap, I'm afraid, largely due to grandparental fondness for regularity).
This time of year, pork is also on sale. The chops I used in my recipe were a thrifty $1.49 a pound. To get that deal, however, I had to buy ten pounds of chops. Today I cooked two chops and put the rest in the freezer. I've also been scanning the bulk food bins at my local grocery store and have discovered dried fruits, nuts, and dried items such as bran, flax seed, and granola are cheaper that package goods. Bulk buying also reduces waste, and many stores will allow you to use reusable bags or containers of your own, so long as you print the proper labels from their scales.
Learning to shop for seasonal deals will help to lower your grocery bill while increasing your culinary repetoire. As the holidays near, turkey and fish will go on sale - so I'll experiment with both in November. The fennel recipes are featured in this post, the others will follow in the days to come.
FENNEL AND GARBANZO STEW
1 1/2 cups dried garbanzo beans
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 cloves garlic - minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds roma tomatoes - chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil leaves (or 2/3 cup fresh basil, sliced into thin strips)
1 large or two small fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped
1 1/2 medium purple onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas
The night before: Rinse garbanzo beans and place in a medium bowl. Cover with water and let stand overnight or all day while you're at work.
Once the beans are soaked, drain and place in a 4 or 5 quart pan. Cover with stock. Add 2 of the three cloves of minced garlic and the red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Cook 45 minutes or until beans are tender. Once the beans are done, reduce heat to a slow simmer. Add chopped fennel and onions.
In a separate pan: Drizzle oil onto the pan surface and add tomatoes and basil. Stir. Add garlic (don't add it first - it burns quickly). Sautee until fresh basil wilts, or if using dried, until you can smell the flavors blending together - about five minutes. Add tomato mixture to the pot of beans. Add more stock if it needed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for twenty more minutes, then remove from heat. Add peas, then cover the pan. Let stand five to ten minutes.
Makes four to six servings.
FENNEL AND ORANGE SALAD
Four cups of mixed greens, including raddichio, spinach, and green leaf lettuce
2 navel oranges
1/8 c. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 medium purple onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup sliced raw almonds (optional)
Slice away the peel of one orange, taking care to remove the white inner rind. Halve the orange, then slice across the segments into 1/4 inch slices. Place in a large bowl with the fennel, purple onion, and cranberries. Cut the other orange in half. Squeeze the juice from the first half of the orange into a small bowl. Set aside. Cut away the rind from the other half, slice as you did with the first orange, and add to the bowl with the fennel. Salt and pepper the vegetables to taste.
In a small bowl, whisk olive oil together with the orange juice. There's no need to add vinegar or sugar - leave the natural flavors as they are. Drizzle the dressing over the orange and fennel mixture, then toss. Let it stand for about ten to fifteen minutes to let the flavors "meld." On each serving plate, place one cup of mixed greens. Top with 1/4 of the fennel and orange mixture. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve.
Makes four servings.