Bacon, Beans and a Braised Fennel Bulb

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This is one of those recipes. You know the kind I mean. The “there’s nothing in the house and I must eat something” kind of recipes.

You see I have been traveling. I am just back from a great trip to Panama where I led a cooking demonstration for my new best friends at Boquete Gourmet. I am planning several posts about my trip so more details are coming. But if you want a sneak peek at my adventure CLICK here to read Boquete Gourmet’s post about our tremendous, fun filled evening of food from the classic restaurants of Hollywood. But then pop right back over here, ‘cuz I’ll never forgive you if you don’t.

Anyway, back to Los Angeles part of this story. Where was I? Oh yes.

Naturally I arrived home to an empty fridge. I am pretty good at emptying a refrigerator, especially right before a big trip. I hate to come home to a bunch of waste, so I had not done much shopping before we left. You see I have a mortal fear of those large, green and black hairy refrigerator monsters that always manage to sneak into my vegetable drawer when I am out of town.

braised fennel and beansSo when the hunger hit me before I was able to restock, I knew I was in a bit of trouble. So I looked to the staples that usually make it through a week or more of sitting around the kitchen.

I knew there was no meat, so I did not even bother looking. So I turned to the hardiest of the non-meat hefty tummy fillers first– the potato. But there were no potatoes in the house. That’s rare. I was privately pleased with my pre-trip ability to eat even the last of the potatoes, but I was disappointed because there was this rumble in my tummy.

Well if you don’t have potatoes what’s the next best bit of hardy appetite appeasers? Did you answer beans? I hope so, because beans are the correct answer. I always have beans. Canned or dried; beans always, always, always live in my pantry where they are safe from the green and black hairy refrigerator monsters. I chose cannellini.

When I was searching in dry storage for potatoes I noticed a red onion that still seemed relevant so I grabbed that too.

My next stop was the fridge. More precisely the vegetable drawer inside the fridge. Now this is the very place those hairy little creatures multiply whenever I go on vacation. So I approached the vessel with trepidation.

As I pulled open the refrigerator door I half expected to hear an eerie creeeeaking sound, which would suit the anxiety and anticipation that accompanied my movements. But these are brand new Thermadors. They don’t creak. Still I imagined the creaking in my mind, so I was feeling a bit on edge.

Sure enough all the signs of the of a green and black hairy infestation were in place. There was a half full carton of soymilk on the top the shelf. I scooped it away and out of sight with out even opening it up. Same with the slightly puffed up jug of 2 week-old, fresh-squeezed orange juice. Whoosh, gone. Safely in the sink with the soymilk.

The rest of the refrigerator didn’t look so bad. Unopened yogurts would be safe, all my condiments and nut oils did not offend me in any way. I noticed half a box of Cadbury chocolates from England, but I was willing to bet that they were inviolable.

That left me with the task at hand­– the veg drawer. What might have I forgotten? What wonderfully fresh little Farmers Market tid-bit had I left for dead? Surely it was now consumed and sacrificed to the evil green and black hairy refrigerator monsters. But I had to be sure. Once there is one monster in the drawer, there will soon be more! That’s how they are…

As I opened the top drawer I immediately spied a carrot, limp and wrinkled, but not yet overcome by the hairy monsters. I quickly put it out of its misery. It’s the only humane thing to do. There was citrus that had actually survived! Man, was I proud of their resolve… I opted to set them aside and reward them with a quick swim in my cocktail glass later this evening.

I let loose a sigh of relief. Drawer One. CLEAR.

That led me to Drawer Two. We all have a Drawer Two. This is where the leafy greens are meant to nestle safely from all danger. But too many times it is the exact same drawer where the green and black hairy refrigerator monsters first strike! Oh the horror I have seen in Drawer Two.

Now there was no going back. I revved up the imaginary sound track of military might that I reserved in my brain for just such moments, and in one quick movement I slid that drawer to open. Wide open!

What did I see? Could it be?

A fully intact, entirely unscathed fennel bulb. Miracle of miracles! “How’d ya do it, son?”

I now had the courage to tackle Drawer Three. Drawer Three is always a breeze compared to Drawer Two. Because Drawer Three is meat. I am quite confident I cleaned all the meat out of the drawer before I left. Phewww…

Safely confident that nothing horrible awaited me in Drawer Three I pulled it open with very little expectation and no anxiety. It was this healthy and dauntless state of mind that put me in just the right place for a little karmic retribution. Because there guardedly snuggled all by itself in Drawer Three was an entire pound of unopened BACON! The mother lode…

It was the strength of this bacon with all its moral purity that kept the green and black hairy refrigerator monsters at bay. It was this bacon with all its super hero attributes that protected my delicate fennel bulb all the days I was in Panama. It was this bacon I could kneel down before and thank for the meal of which I was about to partake.

braised fennel with canneloni and baconBraised Fennel with Cannellini and Bacon SERVES 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 8 slices bacon, sliced cross wise into 1/2 pieces
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3 cups)
  • 1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)
  • 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) white beans
  • 1-cup homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh oregano, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • 1/4-teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

Heat a large large, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until almost crisp. Using a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate. Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add fennel and onion to the same pan; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and edges are brown, about 10 minutes.

Add beans, stock, chopped oregano, red pepper flakes, 1-teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced by about half, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar and butter; remove from heat. Garnish with oregano leaves. Serve as a side dish or over toast as a rustic meal.