Friday, June 29, 2012

Pan-Fried Fennel

This week's box came with two enormous bulbs of fennel, even more enormous stalks and fronds attached. (We might have sort of also maybe had a bulb from the previous week still hanging around, too.)

All the greenery is a bit hard to know what to do with (I'd compost it if certain waste-not types weren't watching), though it has a rhapsodic admirer on Gilt Taste. Between Chowhound and Serious Eats, the best suggestion I saw for the stems was "use them to make stock." Maybe not on a ninety-degree day, guys.

The fronds found their unoriginal end in a large amount of fennel pesto (house recipe, today with walnuts and garlic). The taste is fresh and green -- not excessively licorice-like, I don't think.

There are lots of recipes, however, for the bulbs. Here are two dozen by Martha Stewart and fourteen more from the Huffington Post.

Today's winner was Martha's pan-fried fennel, which has an easy flour-egg-breadcrumb coating (you don't really need a recipe). Three fennel bulbs later, however, I still do not know how she cut the finger-like strips you see in her photo (and I would have ended up with fewer odd-shaped bits if I hadn't tried).

The result, I thought, was not unlike fried seafood -- I'm not sure if that's the Cajun seasoning I added to the flour, a flavor present in the oil (we reuse our fry oil), or some piscine affinity of the vegetable (which is, in fact, often served with fish).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

This pie contains both lard and vodka.
This week was the first week of the Enterprise farm share, and they sent us rhubarb and strawberries.

(Long-time readers may remember last year's eight ways not to make rhubarb pie. Having learned my lesson, I followed recipes this year.)

The pie filling is Smitten Kitchen's "Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, Improved," which recipe I followed pretty much to the letter, and which I am abashed to report turned out entirely delicious. The unexpected ingredient was instant tapioca, which turns the otherwise runny mess of strawberries and rhubarb into a proper pie filling. (Our strawberries weren't very sweet, so if I had a do-over, I might add a smidge more sugar.)

The crust directions came from Smitten Kitchen's "Pie Crust 101," which uses Cook's Illustrated's "Foolproof Pie Dough" recipe. The secret ingredient is vodka (which provides moisture for mixing the crust, but doesn't toughen it like water, and evaporates in the oven). I substituted half a cup of lard for the half cup of vegetable shortening called for (influenced by this extraordinarily thorough New York Times investigation of various pie crust fats). With neither a food processor nor a pastry blender, I settled in for the tedium of cutting the butter and lard into little pieces and then using two knives to cut them into the flour.

Above is what the pie look likes if you ignore Smitten Kitchen's instruction to let the pie cool and the tapioca  set up for several hours. Because -- seriously -- who makes a pie and then doesn't eat it for several hours?

Later slices, more cool-headedly taken from the refrigerator, were as solid and lovely as one might hope.

Monday, June 4, 2012

This Year's Tomatoes

Because it wouldn't be summer without some scraggly tomatoes being ineptly coached along the fence, I stopped by the opening day of the Union Square Farmers Market on Sunday to pick up some plants.

The starts I got from Kimball Fruit Farm (Twitter) did well last year, and four plants for $4 proved so irresistible that I came home with eight. (Requiring a substantially larger investment in buckets and container mix, sigh.)

I never have any idea what I'm buying when I pick out the plants, so half the fun is looking up what kind of tomatoes I've planted later. Looks like a substantial bias toward pink-red medium-large tomatoes this year.

Brandywine: large (1-pound) pink beefsteak tomatoes
Carbon: medium-large black-red tomatoes
Cherokee Chocolate: medium chocolate-mahogany tomatoes
Church: large (1-pound) red beefsteak tomatoes
Fenda: medium pink hybrid tomatoes
Mexico: huge (1- to 2-pound) pink beefsteak tomatoes
Rose: medium dusty-rose ribbed tomatoes
Yellow Pear: bite-size bright-yellow pear-shaped tomatoes

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Herbed Olives: Correction

We tried making herbed olives (cheap Market Basket olives + cheap olive oil + herbs and spices + Mason jars) for the first time in February, and I may erroneously have given you the impression that they looked good but tasted sort of ... meh.

This is not true. If you jar them and then promptly refrigerate them, not much happens. But if you let the olives sit out at room temperature*, the olives start picking up amazing flavors and the oil can season your dinner by itself.

We've filled our jars twice more since we last talked (so we've made six quarts of olives in total, using about $15 worth of olives). For the first refill, I didn't replace any of the seasonings; just added more olives and olive oil on top of them in the jars. For the second refill, I did start over (whole dry chiles and red pepper flakes in one jar; lemon peel and peppercorns in a second; rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, and mustard seed in both). After a day or so of sitting on our counter through a heat wave, those olives were pretty much the best olives EVER.

I keep the two jars of the olives next to the stove, so they're always handy for snacking and the oil is nearby to use for cooking.

* There is a slight risk of botulism (an uncommon but serious form of food poisoning) associated with garlic stored in olive oil kept at room temperature. To lower the risk, you might omit the garlic or cook it in advance, heat the oil (per the original recipe), add lemon juice (for acid), or just refrigerate the darn things. Health Canada says commercial olive oil products that contain salt are fine, so the (incredibly salty) olives help, too.

(This correction post inspired by the Alexes, who not only read but also remember everything I write here.)