Monday, April 13, 2009

Collective Kitchen Episode II: Dining with Fennel

That's right,'s time for Episode 2 of the Collective Kitchen!

Click here to download Collective Kitchen, Episode 2: Dining with Fennel! Use our RSS feed to subscribe through iTunes or your favorite podcast subscription software.

Early spring is a hard time for locavores. You're running out of everything you put up for the winter, and you're totally sick of butternut squash, sweet potatoes, lentils, curries and other heavy winter foods. Now is the time to get creative, so we decided to have an Iron Chef-style meal in which (almost) every single item included the unique and delicious vegetable fennel.

Natalie, an avid fan of all things anise-flavored, cooked a delicious Creamy Fennel Soup as our main dish. Here are her notes on the meal...

Since I haven't been cooking for too long, I'm always looking up new recipes to try. I admire Shannon's confidence and adventurousness in making up most of her recipes, but I'm still tied to the good old Joy of Cooking and my favorite cooking websites. I got my recipe for the creamy soup from the Food Network website: check out the details here. A recap of how I cooked this dish is as follows:

  • 3-4 bulbs fennel
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Remove the greens from the fennel stalks, chop them, and reserve. Cut the fennel bulbs and stalks into coarse pieces. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. I usually just dump olive oil into the pot until it looks like enough, instead of meticulously measuring. You could also add a little bit of butter (as I have learned recently!) to help 'stabilize' the olive oil and prevent it from burning and transforming into those pesky free radicals.

Add the onions and some salt and cook until soft. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until you can smell the garlic -- usually about a minute. Add the chopped fennel and saute for a few minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the fennel is very tender. Allow to cool slightly.

Puree the soup and put it back into the pot. Add the cream, and season with salt and pepper.

This soup was really easy, and it had a great aroma as it cooked. Fennel bulbs can be expensive, so I wouldn't consider this a casual weeknight recipe, but it would be a great side dish for a weekend early spring dinner party. If you want to be fancy, you can include the second part of the recipe, which is toasted bread with fennel fronds on top. Here are the instructions:


  • 1/8 teaspoon finely ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 diagonal-cut slices baguette (you could use any bread you have on hand. I had homemade oatmeal flax-seed bread, and honestly I didn't mind the slight thickness at all, though if you're a purist just head out and grab a fresh baguette...yum.)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil andh lemon juice. Add the reserved fennel greens from the soup and parsley, toss to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Set the herb salad aside.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the ground fennel seeds and stir for 30 seconds. Add the baguette slices in a single layer, and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes total. Season with salt, to taste. Remove the baguette slices from the pan.

I admit at this time of year, it's hard to be a locavore. I got most of the ingredients for this meal from Ellwood Thompson's, though my vegetable stock was homemade. Ellwood's has a pretty reliable supply of fennel.

Shannon, salad expert extraordinaire, fills us in on her side dish, the roasted fennel salad, and then discusses her local wine list...

Arugula Salad with Roasted Fennel

I came up with this salad on the fly at 6 a.m the morning of our podcast dinner. Nevertheless, it is a very straightforward salad, using classic combinations so I wasn't worried about how it would turn out. I thought it turned out to be a great match with Natalie's wonderfully rich and creamy soup...oh, and that bread! So good. Anyway, on to the recipe...

A word on the measurements...very often I do not measure. This salad and the accompanying dressing is one of those times. All measurements are estimations.

The arugula came from my garden, and so all I can tell you is that I had a pile of freshly cut arugula that filled a larger-size colander...or enough to fill 6 salad plates. The mead came from my father-in-law who home-brews. I love mead, and this particular batch was not too sweet and had hints of anise and orange. I added the mead as a way to smooth out the vinegariness of the balsamic, and to add very light touch of sweetness as well as flavor.

The honey tangelos came from Florida ( I do encourage purchasing as much fresh citrus as you like in the winter months when we can get it from Florida). I had considered blood oranges, but decided that the sweetness of the honey tangelos would be needed. For the goat cheese I recommend the plain Chevre from Goats R Us sold at various farmers markets and Ellwood Thompson's. I got my fennel bulbs from Ukrops and while now is a great time to try fennel, in March it is not local. Local fennel has been extremely hard to come by regardless of season. Last year my I was only able to find fennel available through the Victory Farms CSA. They did not have enough to sell outside of their CSA. Hopefully the increased market for local fennel will encourage others to start growing this amazingly nutritious and tasty vegetable. With the USA label above the fennel I purchased, I am assuming it came from California.

For creating this salad without specific measurements etc. there are a couple basics that in my opinion you should keep in mind. First, you want to have more oranges than walnuts or fennel. The the fresh, juicy sweetness of the orange is needed to balance out the buttery, earthiness of the walnuts. Second, you could replace some of the arugula with baby lettuces or other fresh greens, but the spiciness and bite of the arugula is of great benefit to this salad. In the end however, my suggestion is to simply follow your own taste buds...

Ingredients: (serves 6)

1 large bunch of arugula2-3 small fennel bulbs (cored, chopped and roasted)

11/2 cups toasted walnuts

4tblsps crumbly goat cheese

4 tblsps crumbly goat cheese

3 honey tangelos

For the Dressing

1/2 cup or so of quality extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup or so of good balsamic vinegar

11/2-2 tblsps mead (a semi-dry white wine with undertones of peach or citrus would work great too)

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1/2 tsp salt

Wine Notes

To select the wine for this meal I turned to Tommi at Once Upon A Vine off of Forest Hill Ave. I described the meal we would be having and told him I was looking for 3 different Virginia Wines to complement things. He helped me select The 2005 Prince Michelle Vineyard Cabernet Franc to get us started off. Again it was emphasised that the Cabernet Franc grape is one of the best grapes grown in Virginia.

Prince Michel Vineyard: Located about 40 minutes north of Charlottesville. We had their 2005 Cabernet Franc. It was delicious. A wonderful full flavor that kept us all happy while we waited for our meal to meet the table. Their 2006 Cabernet Franc is described as having "Rich fruit flavors of dark cherry complement the subtle hints of roasted coffee bean and black pepper. Less tannic than most reds, this is a wine with broad appeal."

To serve with the main course of soup and salad Tommi selected the Veritas Viognier. The Viognier is considered to be one of the two best grapes grown in Virginia, along with the Cabernet franc. The weight and fresh fruit flavors of this wine was a great match for the buttery, earthy, and citrus flavors of the food. The Veritas Vineyard and Winery is West of Charlottesville in Afton VA. They have a full restaurant and give tours, but also allow you to bring your own picnic to eat outside. They describe their 2007 Viognier as having "lush fruit flavors and heady aromas."

Finally we finished off the night with Erin's Rosemary Fennel Seed Shortbread dessert and the Barboursville Vineyards Brut. This sparkling wine was a nice balance to the savory sweet shortbread and the Blackberry Lime Ice cream. This time Tommi had tried to convince me to go with a more traditional, sweet dessert wine. Selecting a Virginia Dessert wine was going to run me about $30 a bottle. I had hoped to keep all of the wine selections under $20 a piece, and I find dessert wines too sweet to sip alongside dessert itself. Once It was clear I was not going to follow that route Tommi selected the Brut. The Barboursville Brut was just over $20, but less than the dessert wines and in my opinion the dry fizzy wine is a far better match to an already sweet dessert. Also, I think we all felt a little extravagant sipping our bubbly! All in all we got to try three great Virginia Wines from three of Virginia's best Vineyards. Not bad for a night in!

Erin's recipe for the dessert follows...we all know Erin is an amazing baker!

Rosemary Fennel Shortbread
I used this recipe from, adjusted for 12 servings. I added an amount of fennel seed equivalent to the chopped rosemary.

Blackberry Lime Ice Cream
After surveying my freezer, I found about a cup of blackberry coulis that I had made and frozen in the summer. A coulis is a thick juice--great for making sauces. I just pressed the fresh blackberries through a strainer, and was left with the juice and not the bitter stems or pesky seeds.

This recipe is adapted from my favorite ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop.

Makes a little over 1 quart

1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups strained blackberries
1 TBS fresh lime juice

Warm half and half, pour over egg yolks, whisking constantly. In saucepan over medium heat, stir until custard coats the spatula. Pour custard through strainer over cream. Mix in blackberries and lime juice, and cool in refrigerator. Follow instructions for your ice cream maker.

We hope you enjoyed this month's episode of Collective Kitchen! Check back next month for some tips on that first and most delicious spring vegetable: asparagus!

1 comment:

  1. That looks like a lot of fun and good eating. Enjoyed the recipes, the shortbread is very interesting