Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Coffee Break: A Little Fennel in my Life
I didn't like it. The aroma of licorice overpowered my senses. And so I avoided it. The seeds, the bulb, the fronds, all of it. But this prejudice, for that's really what it was, began to ebb when I first tried a dish my mother cooked up. The strong flavours I had formerly despised melted away into caramely sweetness. Later, I would find that the slender stalks of the wild plant proved light and crunchy, with mild dulcet undertones.

Fennel (or finocchio, as you do) has a long and illustrious history of cultivation, dating back to ancient Egypt. It's probably best known for its prominence in Italian cuisine, and litters Greek and Roman mythology. In much of the Mediterrannean region, the plant can even be found growing wild in fields and on the sides of roads (according to legend, the battle of Marathon took place on a field of fennel). It has spread throughout Europe now, and made its way across the Atlantic fewer than three hundred centuries ago.
Traditionally used to ward of bad humours and evil spirits (especially on Midsummer's eve in Medieval Europe), fennel is beneficial in aiding digestion and can quell hunger during fasts. Seeds are used to flavour dishes, the herbaceous fronds used to flavour breads, the stems make a nice salad, and the bulb is prized for its many culinary uses.

And so we come to the dish that broke my
antipathy. It's really quite simple.

Lentiche con Finocchio Caramellato
1 cup dry lentils, cooked in 2 cups vegetable stock
1 medium fennel bulb, coarse chop
1 medium onion, coarse chop
2 large peppers, sliced (Italian fry or gypsy peppers are nice)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp honey or agave
1 tbs olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Heat oil on medium-high in a large skillet. Add onion and fennel together and cook (preferably covered) until the onion starts to become translucent. 
2. Add garlic, peppers, and honey. Cook covered for 15-20 minutes until the fennel is soft and caramelly. For another 5 minutes, include the lentils and a pinch of salt. Turn off heat and allow to sit for at least ten minutes. In my opinion, it's better to give more time for flavours to meld.
3. Serve warm with tasty crusty bread.

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