Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fresh fennel two ways

Both of these dishes were either from, or inspired by, recipes in Veganomicon. I'd bought my very first fresh fennel bulb ever, after being thrilled with the dried fennel I've been using in cabbage rolls and meatballs, and was I ever glad I finally did. The bulb looks a little like a celery root, smells a little like liquorice, tastes a little like both, but so very fresh and pleasant.

This is the Midsummer corn chowder with basil, tomato and fennel, which I halved but otherwise made according to the recipe. I even made the Fresh Corn Stock, which is essentially the usual stock suspects plus the cobs from the corn broken in half and the stalky feathery bits from the fennel. I'll be making this soup again next year, when the new corn arrives. The farmers come into town and sell it—just corn—from the backs of trucks seemingly on every street corner at this time of year. So I used local, in season and very fresh peaches and cream corn, which retained its sweet crunchiness through all this cooking—and the fennel. As you can see by the recipe, the vegetables are lightly sautéed, but not browned, and this brought out the full fragrance of the fennel.

I have to learn to take better pictures of soup. One reason for the extreme food close-ups on this blog is that there is a single extremely limited area in my house (the top of my stove, actually) which gets more or less enough artificial light for photographs during the ten months that are not June and July when no sunlight shines directly though my windows. Soup photographs really require accessories, though. I found the recipe online here, and reproduce it for you:

Midsummer Corn Chowder With Basil, Tomato, and Fennel

6 ears fresh corn
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 lb waxy potatoes (about 2 medium), diced
2 tsp dried thyme
2 quarts Fresh Corn Stock, vegetable broth or water
1 pound tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Remove husks and silk from corn. Carefully slice off the kernels into a large bowl. Break cobs in half and keep to make corn stock or simply add them to the soup while simmering.

2. Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir and cover, sweating them for about 5 minutes.

3. Add carrot and celery, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add the fennel, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

5. Add the potato, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

6. Finally, add the corn, stir, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

7. Add the water or stock (and optionally the corn cobs and bay leaf, making sure to remove before adding the tomatoes and basil), stir, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and allow the soup to simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally.

8. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the soup, cool in a bowl, and blend with immersion blender, food processor, or blender, then add it back to the soup.

9. Add the chopped tomatoes and basil and return just to a simmer.

10. Adjust salt and pepper, serve.

And the second dish is based on the Pasta della California, also from Veganomicon. Y'all can go straight to the source at the PPK website to see a picture of what it's supposed to look like when you don't sub out all of the ingredients, including the pasta (for homemade okara gnocchi in this case) and get the recipe. I mostly kept the sauce ingredients the same, though, and the combination of olive oil, garlic, vegetable broth, white wine, lime juice, and lime zest is pure genius.

I stir-fried the second half of the fennel bulb in my version of this dish, and it was good, but not nearly as spectacular as the light sauté and simmer in the soup.


  1. funny, i was going to make this on the 17th, but had to wait for fresh basil. what would you suggest putting in the corn broth?

  2. The Veganomicon recipe has suggestions for broth ingredients, but I keep vegetable scraps in the freezer (peels from scrubbed carrots and potatoes, mushroom stems, water from soaking dried mushrooms, bits of onion, the ends of green onions, things like that) and when I accumulate enough of them I put them in a pot with some water and herbs and cook them up for about an hour and then strain out the broth. That's what I did, but I added the corn cobs and fennel stems to the mix as well.