Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fennel Cooked in Wine

I always think about fennel in the spring, perhaps because, traditionally, it is a late spring or summer vegetable.

Fennel is a nice vegetable, rich in folic acid and minerals, but not always appreciated because of its strong aroma. It can be added to fresh salads when you feel its crunchiness and flavor, or it can be cooked. Personally, I prefer it cooked.

Some time ago, I shared a recipe for fennel baked in béchamel sauce with goat cheese. It is a lovely but rather rich dish. So I was looking for a somewhat lighter fennel recipe where fennel could be an accompaniment to meat or fish, and not a dish in itself. I got inspired by a recipe for fennel cooked in wine, which I once read in some Italian cookbook.

I made two versions of that dish with some modifications. First, I cooked fennel in red wine. This way it became heavier, changed color, and tasted almost as red cabbage, which would make it a wonderful accompaniment to red meats. The other time, I made the same recipe using white wine. Much lighter but still well defined in taste, thanks to the sourness of the wine, and spicy because of the red pepper flakes.

This second recipe became my favorite among all fennel dishes I tried so far and I made it already several times. The dish is easy and can be made ahead and reheated at the last moment. It tastes great with all meats, also grilled, but particularly with delicate fish.

Fennel Cooked in Wine

3 large fennel bulbs,
2 tbsp olive oil,
4 garlic cloves,
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves,
1–1 and 1/2 cup dry white wine,
3 tbsp pitted black olives, sliced,
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut fennel in half and then into thick slices. Put it in a large heavy duty pot and add oil and garlic. Fry for about 10 minutes over medium heat stirring from time to time until fennel becomes gold.
2. Add rosemary leaves, olives, and red pepper flakes. Mix well.
3. Pour wine into fennel and simmer it uncovered for about 15-20 minutes. You may add extra wine during cooking if fennel is still too hard and wine already evaporates, but when the fennel is tender turn up the heat and let the sauce reduce.

4. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Jerusalem Artichokes Soup

I have been quite busy with my kids' spring breaks and English classes I have recently taken up, so although I still cook, if I write anything, it is mostly my homework, not recipes. Being so preoccupied with many things, I chose today to share a recipe for an easy soup, which I enjoyed very much a couple of weeks ago.

I was very curious already for some time to try Jerusalem artichokes, which, except for the name, have nothing to do with Jerusalem. Also known as sunchokes, unfortunately, they are not too popular and easily available in my area. So when the other day I saw them in my Balducci store, I greedily bought the whole pound without yet having an idea what to make from them. In any case, I knew that they tasted pretty good served just raw, sliced in salads.

Raw Jerusalem artichokes are crunchy. They have an earthy flavor, which comes out even more intensively when they are cooked. They have an interesting look, similar to ginger, and have many nutritional values. Just like the regular artichokes, they contain inulin, a type of dietary fiber, which is qualified as prebiotic and promotes growth of good, intestinal bacteria. Inulin kills the bad and support the good bacteria in the digestive track. Jerusalem artichokes are also extremely high in iron, in fact highest among all known vegetables. They are also very rich in potassium and copper.

There are many ideas how to serve these artichokes but probably the most popular are all kind of soups. Particularly one recipe intrigued me a lot. The soup was made from puréed artichokes and finished with milk. That made it very light and dietetic. But since I like to experiment, I served my portion with a dollop of crème fraîche. And it tastes even better that way, as long as you do not have to worry about the extra calories.

Jerusalem Artichokes Soup

1 lb Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into smaller pieces,
1 medium onion, chopped,
1 garlic clove,
2 tbsp olive oil,
2 celery stalk, sliced,
4-5 cups vegetable stock,
1/2 cup milk,
crème fraîche or sour cream to serve,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Heat the oil in a large heavy duty pot. Add the onion, garlic, celery and cook over the medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add Jerusalem artichokes and cook for another 5 minutes.

2. Pour vegetable stock into the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer a soup for about 25 minutes, until the artichokes become soft.

3. Purée the soup using an electric blender. Add milk and bring to boil.

Serve the soup with a dollop of crème fraîche and white bread.