My family likes to cluster all their main events. Not for us the birthday in May or January, or the wedding in June. No, we like to slam all major life events such as birthdays and weddings together in one month, preferably in one week that also contains one major religious/seasonal or national holiday. So Alan and I celebrate our anniversary, Chanukka, Christmas, his birthday and New Years all within the space of about 12 days. My parents have done us one better. They have my dad's birthday, Easter and their anniversary all within the space of four days. Don't ask me why we do this, but we do. I think it has something to do with mnemonics, or a memory trick, or too many viewings of Memento. Either way, it works out to no one in our family ever forgetting anyone's special day.
Sort of like this:
Only more festive and with cake. Always with cake.
So this last week has been a crazy time around here, what with the holiday, birthday, and anniversary celebrations all occurring. What I usually do is toss a big Easter lunch or dinner at which all the other events can also be acknowledged. Sort of killing three birds with one meal. So yesterday, which I'm still cleaning up from today, was a family Easter lunch.
With the pressure of so many family events in a short space of days, I'm always looking for simple quick and easy, but at the same time special enough for a holiday gathering. So, when I was cruising around the internet looking for something interesting, I ran across a recipe in Bon Appetit for Arugula Salad With Oranges and Caramelized Fennel by Kate and Scott Fogarty. The reason the recipe caught my eye was because it included one of my favorite springtime vegetables and something I think is very underrated on the American table. I'm talking about you fennel. I consider fennel a crossover vegetable which is important around here since I usually cook Indian food, and my parents will only eat Italian food. Fennel is a vegetable found in both cuisines. Small world indeed.
I've been reading a lot about fennel pollen lately. Paula Wolfert gave me a small pouch of it to try about a year or so ago and I've been using it ever since. Fennel seed is a staple in my kitchen, and the fennel bulb with it's licorice, anise scent is one of my favorite vegetables. It's also amazingly good for you and has been used for medicinal purposes for millenia. Even my ancestors the ancient Romans, had a thing or two to say about fennel: "Semen foeniculi pellit spiracula culi" translates as "the fennel seeds make blow the arsehole". So there's that.
On the sexier side, fennel was one of the key ingredients used to manufacture Absinthe, or as it was known to addicted painters and mad poets....The Green Fairy.
But I'm not talking about exotics here. I'm talking about the lowly fennel bulb, found right now at most markets pretty damn cheaply. One large fennel bulb or two small ones will give you enough fennel to feed 8 hungry relatives this salad. Did I say it was easy too?
Arugula Salad With Oranges and Caramelized Fennel
Here's What You Need:
1 large or 2 medium size fennel bulbs trimmed and cut vertically into about 12 wedges. Keep some of the core attached.
6 fresh thyme sprigs
6 Tbs of good olive oil divided in half
1/4 cup of sherry vinegar
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
4 oranges, all peel and white pith cut away. (I used blood oranges for contrast) Slice them thinly crosswise.
10 oz of baby arugula
Here's What To Do:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Mix the fennel wedges together with the thyme and 4 Tbs of the olive oil in a large bowl.
Coat everything well.
Arrange the fennel on a large cookie sheet sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast the fennel in the oven turning each wedge over once, about 20 minutes on each side.
It will be nice and browned on the edges and caramelized when the fennel is done.
Set it aside. You can do this part at least 2 hours ahead of time, just let it stand at room temperature.
I had some time to kill so to relax I played my uke for a bit.
Meanwhile, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and 2 Tbs of olive oil.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add in the fennel and orange slices and arugula.
Mix everything together well.
Plate it and serve it up.
With fresh fresh crusty artisan bread and a good olive oil for dipping, this should get even your toughest customers through the first course.
As to the entree, this was where I pulled out the big guns...Suvir Saran and his amazing meatless ragu recipe from his Masala Farm cookbook. Did it work? Coming up next I tell the tale of the most difficult eater in the world, my mother. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori.