Monumental fennel

Look what our garden made!

A gigantic fennel bulb!  It’s always fun to try something new in the garden.*  We tried fennel last year, but never got beyond a tiny little plant.  Not so this year!

We roasted the bulb, and we’re using the stalks and feathery bits in salads.  Roasted fennel is quite the treat!  While we were at it, we roasted some garden beets and turnips, too 🙂

Roasted Fennel
Preheat oven to 400° F.  Cut fennel bulb into quarters.  (Reserve stalks and feathery bits for something else.)  Brush both sides of fennel with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for about 40 minutes — flip to other side at the half-way point.  Finished product should be tender, golden, and caramelized.

*Growing Fennel (advice from Matthew)
We started the fennel from seed (look for “Florence fennel” or “bulbing fennel”) back in mid-January using our grow lights.  We transplanted them to the garden in mid-March, when they were still quite tiny.

What Worked for Us

  • When transplanting (or if sowing seed directly), leave at least 12 inches between plants to encourage large bulb formation.
  • Keep plants well-weeded early on — mulching will help with this.
  • Keep watered, too — again, mulch helps here.
  • Pray to the weather gods 😉 The rainy, cool spring probably helped.
  • Click here if you want more details.

Spring on my plate

Best way to eat asparagus?  Broiled, hands down!  Grilled is also great, but pulling out the grill just for a few pieces of asparagus would be silly.  The broiler setting on the toaster oven makes perfect asparagus for two — just brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt before broiling.

Main dish (not so local, but yummy): quinoa with portabello mushrooms and artichoke hearts, plus lots of our garlic chives.  I bought the portobellos at City Greens, but I forgot to ask about their origin — they MAY have been locally grown/foraged.

On the side, we ate a simple salad with greens from our garden. I’m loving all of this fresh, local goodness.

Speaking of which, I don’t have photographic evidence, but I spent last Saturday in the kitchen (barefoot and pregnant 😉 ) with 12 quarts of gorgeous, delicious strawberries.  I saved some for eating fresh, but most are topped, bagged, and frozen, ready for eating throughout the year.

Eating garden fresh in February

I’m always delighted when I look at my plate and realize that a large portion of the food on it came from our garden (or local sources).  A couple nights ago, we tossed together a relatively quick meal, almost all home grown.

From the top: roasted, shredded beets with butter and salt(actually from my father-in-law’s garden), a veggie saute made from frozen green beans and corn, plus roasted winter squash (sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with fresh ginger, horseradish, and soy sauce), and noodles with canned sauce from our garden tomatoes.  Yum 🙂

Two for two

Sauce Magazine, my favorite StL foodie mag, scores high points for the recipes in its February 2011 edition.  On Sunday night, we made Acquacotta, a delicious and hearty soup, though it left us wondering what kind of Italian peasants can afford 10 oz. of dried porcini mushrooms.  We made it with our homegrown celery, herbs, leeks, and tomatoes, plus some local dried mushrooms — though we did not have 10 ounces!

Last night, Matthew made Navratan Korma, an Indian vegetable dish.  We both enjoyed it and think the leftovers will be even better, as the flavors have more time to meld.   Matthew dug into our freezer for garden/local green beans, carrots, yellow squash, and cauliflower, plus potatoes from our crop and our canned tomatoes.

This is the time of year when all the work of chopping, blanching, and canning, plus Matthew’s work in the garden really pays — in delicious dividends!

Butter with a side of vegetables

If you’re looking for decadent vegetarian comfort food, The Barefoot Contessa’s “Vegetable Pot Pie” is your dish.  While the vegetables make this somewhat healthy, don’t be fooled, it has TONS of butter.  (I’ve concluded that if a recipe doesn’t have at least a pound of butter, it’s not a Barefoot Contessa recipe.)

In our most recent rendition, we made this with vegetables almost entirely from our garden: butternut squash, carrots, onions, potatoes, green beans (subbed for the asparagus), and parsley.  The only non-garden veggies were the fennel (which we tried to grow) and the “small frozen onions” which I really don’t like that much anyway and may just omit next time.

My pastry chef makes the pie crust with 100% whole wheat pastry flour — healthy and so much tastier and more interesting than plain old white flour!

A few notes:

  • We skip the Pernod (an anise flavored liquor).
  • Don’t skip the saffron!!!  It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way — it’s important to the flavor here.
  • To make it vegetarian, we use veggie broth or stock instead of chicken stock.
  • We tend to be generous with the amount of vegetables.
  • To make it healthier, eat a small serving of the pot pie with some lighter side dishes to round out the meal.  I served this with a tomato salad last week.