I made Sautéed Fennel because I found some beautiful fennel bulbs at the Hollywood Farmers Market today. They are the small, flat elongated fennel bulbs sometimes called Italian Fennel. They are far less common than the rounder, fist-sized bulbs I see in grocery stores. I just knew they were to be the subject of my Market Matters post.
But they are so special, looking at them caused me to slow down and think about what I was doing. I didn’t want to present another fennel salad just like all the fennel salads you’ve seen on blogs and in cookbooks everywhere (you know, the one with orange). I don’t mean to say that an orange and fennel salad with whatever slight variation the cook brings to it is not a good salad. In fact it’s a classically good salad. But it doesn’t really say anything new about fennel or about me.
Which got me thinking. I don’t often talk about what I think about cooking as a means of self-expression. I think that’s because it’s hard to define my sensibilities when it comes to food, because I like all food. You’ll practically never hear me say “Oh I don’t eat [fill in the blank]”. Sure there are things I like better than other things, but there are no categories of food that are exempt from my adventurous palate. Food and the experience of life are just too intertwined for me to make such broad rejections.
Still, I have felt a bit lost in my direction here at Sippity Sup these past few months. I look around the blogs, I look at cookbooks and I get the impression that food is getting less and less personal. Less and less original. Too generic. Too easily categorized. All the food I look at is starting to look the same to me! The food on my blog could be the food on your blog, or any one of several great magazines.
That’s why I‘ve found myself thinking about what I like best in a recipe, and what motivates me when I get in the kitchen without a recipe. So I decided I would spend the next few posts showing you food I really love. It’s not going to be wrapped up in pretty ribbons. Many of the most popular ingredients these days (like Nutella and Quinoa) won’t be included. But I hope you see it has a simple kind of integrity that deifines what I love best about life.
The idea started yesterday with Uovo da Raviolo. There is something downright sensual about a dish like that. Each ingredient is elemental, yet distinct. This pasta is enjoyed with all your senses. I want to continue that idea today with an almost painterly rendition of a fennel salad.
Sautéed Fennel Salad
I actually hesitate to call it a salad because I am going to scent it with a bit of orange and I don’t want you to dismiss it as yet another fennel and orange salad from the web. Besides my fennel is sautéed.
Typical of many of the foods I love most, this fennel recipe reaches into several cultures. Yet it still feels very traditional. I could see it sitting on a plate next to French Bistro standards. I myself served it with a lamb stew (coming soon). But I can also see a Moroccan vibe with its play on sweet and savory; it has underlying influences of orange essence with traces of saffron and garlic. The fennel itself is cooked to tender-crisp. The dichotomy of textures is also evident with the addition of crunchy almonds laid next to soft slightly braised currants.
I like dishes like this because they seem to come from everywhere. But my particular inspiration came from an Argentinean-born Parisan chef named Raquel Carena.
Sautéed Fennel with Almonds & Currants serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe
- 2 lb very small fennel bulbs
- 1⁄4 c extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 clv garlic, peeled and minced
- 1⁄2 t sea salt
- 1⁄2 t freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1⁄4 c almonds, very lightly crushed
- 1⁄4 c dried currants
- 2 t whole coriander seeds
- 1 t orange zest
- 1⁄4 c fresh orange juice
- 1 pn saffron threads
- 1⁄4 c cilantro leaves
- fennel fronds, roughly chopped as garnish
Trim the fennel bulbs of all but a few inches of stalk and fronds, but leave a bit of both. Trim the bottom and slice the fennel and attached portion of stalk and fronds lengthwise about 1/4‑inch thick.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers, but is not yet smoking. Add the garlic stirring to coat in oil. Add the fennel, salt, and pepper. Sauté until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the almonds, currants, coriander, orange zest, orange juice, and a pinch of saffron threads. Stir until the currants plump some, about 3 minutes.
Transfer the fennel and all the liquid to a serving tray. Let come to room temperature. It may be made to this point one day ahead if kept refrigerated. Bring back to room temperature before serving.
To serve, stir in the cilantro leaves and garnish with some fennel fronds
SERIOUS FUN FOOD