Sunday, June 7, 2009


I love being introduced to new things. Perhaps commonplace and colloquial to others, yet new and exciting to me. The best part of taking up cooking is that there is so much to explore, so many new flavors to manipulate. Sure, you have your normal go-to supply of herbs and spices, familiar and trusted. But there's something exhilerating about trying a completely different flavor. It's with this spirit in mind that I explored the farmer's market.
I love how local and seasonal each booth is. The zucchini and squash are in. Onions of all types-- spring onion specifically caught my eye--line the tables. Locally produced honey, herbs, strawberries. Greens of all types. So many possibilities in one place.
I bought chicken the day before, so I knew I was looking for healthy vegetable side dishes. I went to see what caught my eye and what inspired me.
Fennel. I just caught Lidia Bastianich making braised fennel with onions and capers. I had never before used fresh fennel but have been meaning to for quite awhile now. It's unbelievable how truly fragrant it is when slicing into it.
Large spring onions. Ready to use, root to tip. The bulbs for the fennel dish, the tops for...
Swiss chard. I have never seen such a 'pretty' green. Stalks vibrantly shaded in reds and yellows. Also another item I had been meaning to experiment with. So here goes...
Braised Fennel with Capers
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich
3 pounds fresh fennel, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 1/2 cups sliced onions
1/4 cup small capers, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pour olive oil into the skillet, set it over medium heat. Place in chopped fennel and onion, season with salt and stir to coat.
Cover the pan and allow the vegetables to cook and caramelize slowly, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat as necessary so they're sizzling, softening and cooking in their own moisture, but not burning or browning too fast.
After 15 minutes, stir in the capers. If the fennel appears to be too dry or stikcing to the bottom of the pan, add a few tablespoons of water. Cook another 15 minutes, covered and stirring every few minutes. The fennel will be tender and slightly golden brown. Add more salt, if needed, and freshly cracked black pepper.

I love how simple this is. Braising, like roasting, brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetable and tones down the strong anise flavor.

Swiss Chard
Adapted from Simply Recipes
1 large bunch of fresh Swiss chard
1 small clove garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Tops of 3 spring onions, chopped
2 tablespoons water
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Rinse the Swiss chard leaves and remove the toughest third of the stalk. Chop the leaves into inch-wide strips.

Heat a saucepan on medium high, add olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Saute for a minute and then add the chopped Swiss chard. Add balsamic vinegar and stir to coat. Cover. Check after about 5 minutes. If it looks too dry, add a few tablespoons of water. Stir the leaves in the pan for more even cooking. Add chopped tops of spring onions. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Check for doneness and salt to taste. If desired, add a few tablespoons of butter at the end.

This is how I like to eat best. This is how food is meant to be enjoyed. Sure, I love a pizza (especially homemade) every now and then, but local ingredients with clean flavors is what I enjoy best.

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