I get infatuated with this; we go on a kick of that; suddenly four meals out of every five feature this thing or the other, where the month before it never crossed my mind at all. So we live in a succession of food eras, each characterized by a couple of distinctive flavors that run through everything, until they disappear from the market or we get distracted again.
We are currently in a Fennel Period and a Grilled Lettuce Period. Grilled romaine is so two years ago, but it really is a pleasant way to fulfill simultaneously the desire for something warm and cosy and the desire for something light and salady, without faffing about with a pile of different ingredients. (You know how to make it already, but here's how I've been doing it lately: big head of romaine lettuce, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed, and shaken dry, cut side brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, on a very hot pan for two minutes or so each side, until lightly charred and wilting -- then roughly chopped and piled on a plate with a little of the aged, thick sort of balsamic vinegar drizzled (vile word) on top.)
Fennel: also perfect for that late winter pushmi-pullyu of fresh springy things on the one side and warm roasty things on the other. The bulbs you know about. I made this Ottolenghi quinoa salad for a potluck last week, with quartered brussels sprouts in the place of the fava beans, and it was very good. Sliced very thin, it makes a swell winter salad, especially with apples; or you can slice it thicker, then steam it and dress it with lemon and red pepper oil a la David Tanis.
The new trick at our house, though, is making full use of the stems. Fennel is too big and awkward to fit in the fridge as it comes. So I lop the bulbs off and put them away separately, then trim off the frondy bits for garnishes or the compost bin. The stems, then, I chop up and keep in a container to toss in with everything. They are lovely. They may look a lot like celery, but I think their texture and flavor are much nicer and more interesting. I have been tossing a half-handful in with any pan of roasting vegetables, or stirring them into a pilaf, and it makes everything taste a little springier and a little different from the way it did last month.
If you really want to enjoy chopped fennel on its own merits, though, try Fennel Rice or Fennel and Eggs:
FENNEL AND EGGS
At least half a cup chopped fennel, mostly or entirely stems, as pictured above
About a quarter cup finely chopped onion
3 or 4 eggs
salt and pepper
Beat the eggs lightly and season with salt and pepper. Saute the fennel and onion slowly in butter until transluscent and tender. Pour the eggs into the pan. Scramble until they are set the way you like them. Serve immediately. Hot buttered toast would not go amiss.
There is no reason why fried rice, which is ultimately a very basic and versatile approach to a very basic and versatile grain, has to be, or pretend to be, Asian. This makes a pretty, green rice dish that goes well with Italian, Spanish, or California-ish flavors.
I think it would be good as a side with salmon, but what do I know?
1-2 Tbsp. light-flavored oil for frying
3/4 cup chopped fennel, mostly or entirely stems, as pictured above
2 tsp. minced ginger
2 cups leftover, cold rice, preferably long-grain
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
Put your large stir-fry pan over high heat. When it's hot, add the oil and swirl it around.
Keep the heat high and the food moving in the pan. Put the fennel in and cook for about two minutes, then add the ginger and cook for just a moment before adding the rice. Fry, stirring/tossing constantly, until the rice is heated through. Add the egg and cumin mixture. Keep things moving, so the egg just coats the rice and more or less disappears.
Remove from heat and add parsley plus salt & pepper to taste. My own taste says that you want to err on the side of more pepper, but maybe you disagree! If you have some of your fennel fronds around, you may as well chop them up and toss them in there, too: it's pretty.