Fennel Two Ways: Cold Salad and Hot Gratin

I’m a huge fan of fennel. In the summertime, I’ll make cold fennel salads, and in the winter, I’ll do gratins. I make these slightly differently every time, but here are the basics:

Fennel Salad

For 4-6 people
2 fennel bulbs (3 if they are small)
1 stalk of celery
mint (or fresh oregano)
1 navel orange
olive oil
salt and pepper
optional: mild, black mediterranean olives

Wash the fennel bulbs and remove the very tops so you just have the bulb. Remove the outer layer if it seems a little woody. Halve them and cut out the dense core, and then halve them again (so you have quarters). Using a mandoline at its thinnest setting, slice up the fennel (watch those fingers!) and place in a large salad bowl.

Peel the navel orange, separate the segments and slice them into half inch pieces. Add to bowl. (Note, when I first had this in Italy, it was served with amazing blood oranges, but I haven’t been able to get quality blood oranges where I live.)

Thinly slice up the celery and add to the bowl (the older photo used in this post had thicker slices of celery, but I’ve found myself liking a thinner cut).

Finely chop up a handful of mint, or fresh oregano.

Drizzle a little olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and mix up. The Italians also sometimes add cured black olives to this, sort of like a kalamata, but not quite as strong.

Fennel Gratin

For 4 to 6
3 or 4 fennel bulbs
Parmesan cheese
2 slices of farm bread for breadcrumbs
Unsalted butter

Get some salted water boiling in a large pot and butter a baking dish.

Wash the fennel bulbs and remove the very tops so you just have the bulb. Save the green fronds if you have them. Remove the outer layer of the bulb if it seems a little woody. Halve them and cut out the dense core. Lay them flat and slice into quarter inch slices.  Boil in the salted water for 5 minutes, drain, and then add to the baking dish.

Mix in about a half cup of grated parmesan cheese, a pinch of black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Chop up some of the fine green fennel fronds and mix in.

For bread crumbs, I never buy store breadcrumbs. I just toast a couple of slices of farm bread until lightly brown, and then chop it up pretty finely. I prefer chopping to a food processor because I like having different (and larger) sizes. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.

Add a bit more grated cheese to the top, and dot with unsalted butter.

Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes.

Lime and Manchego Corn Salad


This summer my friend Veronica made a delicious corn salad one evening for a family bbq, and I’ve been riffing off of it ever since.

5 or 6 ears of corn, cooked and kernels removed
juice of 4 or 5 limes
large handful of cherry peppers, halved
half of a small red onion, finely diced
Half a serrano pepper (or a jalapeno), seeds removed and minced
handful of cilantro, chopped
manchego cheese to taste

First, I juice the limes and chop the red onion, and macerate the onion in the lime juice while working on the rest of the salad. You want a fair amount of lime juice so if your limes are dry, use more of them. For the corn, if you have the ability to cook them over a grill, blackening them in their husks, that is preferred. However, if that isn’t possible, you can also husk them and boil them for 5 minutes. Cut the kernels off the cob and put in your bowl. Halve the tomatoes, chop the cilantro, mince the hot pepper (if fresh peppers are hard to come by, use hot red pepper flakes), and stir it all into the bowl, adding the lime and red onion.

Add a pinch of salt and grate manchego cheese on top to taste. Stir about a half cup of grated manchego in, and keep on going until you have the taste you like.

Personally, I think this salad is nice at room temperature or even a bit chilled, so will often cover with wrap and put in the fridge until 30 minutes before serving.


Shiitake and Manchego Risotto

I think there are three key things to a good risotto. First, making a decent broth. Second, constant stirring. Third, not overcooking it.

I’ll often have broth in the freezer, made with the remains of a roast chicken, but in this case, we were without, so earlier in the day I made a turkey-based broth.

Turkey Broth

2 turkey drumsticks (or thighs)
2 large onions
4 large carrots
4 stalks of celery
2 turnips
handful of brown or white mushrooms
large handful of parsley
4 or 5 bay leaves
dry vermouth or white wine

Chop the all vegetables coarsely.

In a large pot, heat it up with a high flame until a drop of water sizzles. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pot and then brown the turkey drumsticks. Remove the turkey to the side and deglaze the pan with some dry vermouth or wine (i.e. pour in about half a cup and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a spatula).

Lower the heat to medium and add in the onions. Let the onions turn translucent and then add everything else back into the pot, including the turkey. Add another cup of vermouth or wine, and then fill the pot with cold water until the level of the water is above the top of the vegetables by a couple inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 3 hours, partially covered, adding more hot water from a kettle if it drops below the tops of the vegetables.

Remove and discard the turkey and vegetables with a slotted spoon, and then pour the broth into a large bowl through a strainer. If you want to make your broth even richer, add the broth back into the pot and put in fresh vegetables and cook for another few hours.

Shitake and Manchego Risotto

your broth (ideally 10-12 cups worth)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
olive oil
2 cups arborio rice
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 vidalia or spanish onion, diced
large handful of shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of thawed frozen peas
2/3 cup of dry vermouth or white wine
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup of finely grated manchego cheese
large handful or parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Prep all of your ingredients ahead of time, because once the stirring starts, it is full-on. You’ll get a shoulder workout in.

In a saute pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter on medium-low heat and then add your shallots and onions. Cook until they start to turn translucent and add in the mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Have your broth, which should be hot, in a bowl with a ladle to the side of your stove top.

In a large pot, melt the butter and a little olive oil on medium heat. Add in the rice and let it cook, stirring periodically, for 2 minutes. Add in the vermouth and stir until the liquid is mostly (not entirely) absorbed. Add a ladel of broth and stir until the liquid is mostly absorbed.

Stir in the shallots, onions and mushrooms, and keep on adding in ladels of broth, one at a time, allowing each amount of broth to be mostly absorbed. Stir in a half-teaspoon of salt and 2 pinches of ground black pepper.

After about twenty minutes of this, taste the risotto. You want to taste for salt and pepper as well as the doneness of the rice. You want to cook the rice to a just-about al dente state, which, just like with pasta, means that it *almost* soft but still has a bit of a bite to it.

When you feel like you are almost there (having continued to stir in single ladles of broth), stir in the peas, lemon zest, cheese and parsley. Continue to stir for 2-3 minutes, keeping the risotto moist (but not swimming) with broth as needed, just long enough for the peas to cook but not so much that they lose their bright green color. As you do this, do a final taste for salt and pepper and adjust as necessary.


(then with any leftovers, make risotto balls wrapped in chard!)

Chickpea and parsley salad with lemon-shallot dressing

Ah to be on vacation and have time to food blog again!  I tend to eat a lot of salad for lunch in the summer time.  I love tabouli but on its own, tabouli would leave me hungry.  So I created this salad in the same vein (tons of parsley!) but going for a heartier meal. It uses my “go to” salad dressing, of which I never tire.

Salad Ingredients
1 large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
a handful of halved cherry tomatoes or sliced larger tomatoes
half a cucumber, halved and sliced
1 can of chickpeas, thoroughly washed
1 green pepper, sliced into thin, bite-sized pieces
large handful or arugula

Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl, and then add the dressing. Taste for salt — the chickpeas might want a bit more salt than a typical green salad.  One twist is to make the dressing first and pour over the chickpeas, letting them marinate before you add the other vegetables.

Lemon-Shallot Dressing
1 lemon
dash of red or white wine vinegar (not balsamic)
1 shallot (minced) or part of a red onion (finely chopped)
mustard (grey poupon or grain mustard)
olive oil
salt and pepper

To make the dressing, first squeeze the juice of a lemon into a bowl or mug (remove any seeds). Add a dash of vinegar (about a teaspoon). Mince up a shallot (or the red onion) and add to the liquid and let sit for 10 minutes or so.

With a fork, stir in a little olive oil (start with about a teaspoon).
Whisk in a little mustard to taste (start with about 1/8 of a teaspoon).
Adjust oil, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.


Summertime salsa

In summertime, there are few things I like more than fresh salsa and a good beer. I make variations of this recipe, as evidenced in this blog’s history, and can never get enough of it. It goes great with chips, on toasted bread, on fish or hamburgers… or just straight up !

1 red pepper, finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 to 2 jalapenos, depending on heat
4 plum tomatoes, finely diced
5 spring onions, finely diced
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
large bunch or cilantro, finely chopped
several limes
optional: niblets from 1 ear of corn
salt and pepper

Chop it all up, toss in a bowl, squeeze the juice from two limes on top and add a dash of red wine vinegar (maybe half a teaspoon’s worth). Taste for the level of lime, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Curry Lentil, Chickpea and Spinach Soup

This was a hearty vegetarian soup I tried last night, inspired by this recipe spotted on Gojee, albeit with quite a few changes in ingredients and cooking time (and a much less pretty photo). It was simple to toss together and perfect for a cool evening.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large bunch spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
1 cup red lentils
6 carrots, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tsp curry
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
big pinch of black pepper

In a soup pot, saute the onions in the oil for several minutes on medium-low heat and then add in the garlic, potatoes, and carrots. Saute, stirring occasionally, for another 10 to 15 minutes. Then add all of the other ingredients except for the spinach. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper, and add more curry or cayenne if you want a stronger or hotter flavor. Add the spinach and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with some yogurt and potentially some fresh cilantro.

Chard and Cranberry Bean Gratin

It feels like forever since I’ve had a moment to write a post.  Interesting recipes have come and gone, never written down, photo-less, and unblogged.  Furthermore, it sucks not having the time to keep up with the blogs of all the friends I have made in the food blogosphere. Such is the nature of starting a company, Speaking of, please come over to Aprizi, try it out, and let me know what you think.  We just opened up a fledgling beta, and if you like shopping online and discovering cool new stuff, I hope you love what we’re doing.

OK, shameless plug complete! Let’s talk about this dish, which was a tad involved but oh so good.  Hearty vegetarian fare, although suited for a cooler evening.  It is inspired by Alice Waters’ Chard Gratin.  I just turned it into a meal. It has been a few weeks, but here is my best recollection of the dish:

Chard and Cranberry Bean Gratin

Large bunch of chard, leaves and stems separated
1 onion, diced
2 or 3 carrots, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/2 lb of cranberry or borlotti beans
1 tsp fresh winter savory, finely chopped
salt and pepper
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tsp flour
3/4 to 1 cup milk
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

I was working with dried cranberry beans. Put them in a pot with water an inch over the top of the beans, tossed in a couple bay leaves, brought to a boil for a couple minutes, then let simmer until just tender (time will depend on whether you soaked beforehand). Save 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and drain the rest.

Make breadcrumbs by placing stale or fresh bread in a food processor. Spread them out on a baking tray, dot with pieces from 1 tbsp of butter, and toast in a 350F oven until lightly golden.


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the chard leaves for about 3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and let them drain and cool.  Dice the chard stems and cook them in the boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain.

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large (ideally oven-capable) skillet and saute the onions on low heat until translucent.  Add the carrot and celery and continue to cook for 10 minutes.


Add the beans and the bean liquid and/or some white wine, and continue to let it simmer (turn up the heat a tad, if necessary), stirring occasionally.

Squeeze much of the excess liquid out of the chard leaves and coarsely chop them.  Add the chard stems and chard leaves to the skillet.  Add the winter savory (Note: I think oregano or tarragon would also work).  Let simmer for a few minutes.

Sprinkle and stir in the flour, then stir in the milk.  Cook for 5 more minutes, adding more milk if the mixture gets too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you are not using an oven-friendly skillet, transfer to a baking dish.  Spread the breadcrumbs on top, dot with bits from the last tbsp of butter, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the 350F oven.

Cauliflower, Fennel and Potato Mash

This was a delicious variation on cauliflower mash that I threw together and wanted to remember. The fennel adds a bit of sophistication, but it was still wolfed down by our 4 year old.

1 head of cauliflower
1 large fennel bulb
2 or 3 medium potatoes
2 tbsp butter
heavy cream
salt and pepper

Cut the fennel bulb into eighths (halve, halve again, halve again), and chop the cauliflower into similar sized pieces. Peel and quarter the potatoes.  Fill a large pot with about 1/2 inch of water (so the vegetables are not totally immersed) and bring to a boil.  Toss in the potatoes first, then everything else, cover so the steam is captured, and keep on a light boil until tender.  Drain.

In batches, spoon the vegetables into a food processor and puree (you will probably need to pulse, stir and push the fennel pieces down so they get fully pureed), and then spoon each batch of puree into a large bowl.  Once you have everything pureed, add the butter, salt, pepper, and heavy cream to taste.  Note: I usually make my mash potatoes with milk, not cream, but think the cream really works here.

This was a wonderful side dish, and I can see it being used as a nice base for either a hearty fish or chicken breasts.  I’m imagining lots and lots of mushrooms…

Winter Vegetarian Stew


This vegetarian stew was completely winged tonight but I ran with the concept of trying to heighten each flavor first, and then bring things together. I loved how it came out. The idea of the turnip puree came from Kevin on Top Chef last season and I loved it — was almost like coconut milk.  It reminded another person of a chicken pot pie.  I loved how the puree thickened the meal into a great comfort dish without the need for flour.

This was a big hit so I thought I should write down my best memory of the process while it was fresh in my mind.  The amounts below are kind of rough, but it’s stew — nothing needs to be exact here!

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup cream
1/4 tsp sugar
2 medium/large turnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb white mushrooms, halved and sliced
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 cans of chickpeas (or equivalent dried and cooked)
6 to 8 stalks of kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
5 or 6 small red potatoes
1 cup white wine or vermouth
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (or half as much dried)
1 to 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Stage 1: cooking the separate ingredients
A. In a large pot, saute the onions and garlic in a touch of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter, and let slowly cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Add the celery and a couple pinches of salt and continue to cook.

B. Place the turnips, 1/2 cup of cream, and 1/2 cup of water in a pot and simmer until the turnips are soft

C. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a saute pan and cook the mushrooms, with a couple pinches of salt, for 15-20 minutes. Add 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar near the end.

Stage 2: the rest!
Pour 1/2 cup of vermouth (or white wine) into the pot with the onions and celery and let it cook down a bit, then add in the kale.  Cover and let simmer for several minutes.  Once the kale has initially softened, add in the cooked mushrooms and the chickpeas, oregano, parsley. Add another 1/2 cup of vermouth and 1 cup of water and continue to cook.

Place the turnips, with the cooking liquid, in a food processor and let cool.  At this point, I rinsed out this pot, brought water to boil, and boiled the potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes to soften.

Puree the turnip and cream, and add 1/4 tsp of sugar.  Gently stir the puree into the stew, add the pepper flakes and a couple pinches worth of freshly ground black pepper, and add the potatoes when they are done.

Cook the stew for a while longer on very low heat until you are happy the flavors have all come together.  Add some water if it feels too thick.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Lulu’s Ratatouille (and the benefits of elbow grease)


I’ve been reading Julia Child’s My Life in France and the difficulties she faced trying to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  In 1959, when Houghton Mifflin finally passed on the book, and before Knopf picked it up, Julia read a note from her champion at Houghton who explained the rejection, “They feel [the average housewife] wants ‘shortcuts to something equivalent’ instead of the perfect process to the absolute.

America’s culture has changed a lot since then, but anyone who reads Simone de Beauvoir’s 1947 America Day by Day will be struck by how much has remained consistent.  The business instincts of the Houghton execs remains somewhat true today if Rachel Ray’s empire is any evidence.  Thankfully, there is room for more ambitious efforts, as Julia Child and Simone Beck proved and as new author/chefs continue to show; a recent example is Paul Bertolli’s almost literary Cooking by Hand.

Ratatouille strikes me as a perfect dish to highlight the merits of the two mindsets (and there are indeed merits to both).  Sometimes I will throw together a ratatouille very quickly, let all the components stew together for a while unaided, and enjoy a perfectly good rendition.  However, with a little more effort and time, you can take the dish to a different level entirely.

On Friday evening, after picking up some lovely fresh vegetables from the local farm, I rolled up my sleeves and put together an adaptation of Lulu Peyraud’s ratatouille from Richard Olney’s cookbook Lulu’s Provencal Table. It is considerably more involved than my usual, but the result, which we ate the next evening, was the sweetest, most delicious ratatouille I have had in a long while.

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