Polpette di Melanzane al Cumino -Aubergine Patties with Cumin

These patties, or ‘polpette’ as they are called in Italian are quite simple to make and create a bit of interest taste-wise on account of ingredients that ‘pop’:  cumin, spring onion and fresh mint.  They’re dead easy to  make and are crowd pleasers because you can eat them as a finger food or serve them as a part of a main course.  I made them for the first time just over a year ago, on a whim, and have kept making them since, tweaking them this way and that.  There is no real recipe, if you see what I mean.  Just a bunch of ingredients thrown together.  There are countless recipes for aubergine/eggplant patties in Southern Italy and this one would not differ too much save for one ingredient: cumin.   I’ve never come across an Italian recipe calling for cumin.

Try them, you might like them.

Ingredients

Aubergines/eggplant, plastic bread, spring onion or ordinary onion, parsely if you don’t have mint, tomato paste, cumin, sweet paprika, salt, 1 egg, breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon grated parmigiano

IMG_3131This is one aubergine, sliced, and cooked in the oven until it dried out a little.  About half an hour.  Wait for the slices to cool before proceeding.

IMG_3125Some slices of bread (this is what I call plastic bread).

IMG_3126Break up the bread.

IMG_3127Add the parsely.  And whizz the parsely too.

IMG_3128Add some cumin: a couple of teaspoons say …

IMG_3129Add 1 peeled onion, cut into quarters.  Spring onions are better, but I didn’t have any that day.

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This is a tube of tomato paste, tomato concentrate.  My fridge is never without one because this tomato can be added to so many recipes.  Just a squidge here and there.

IMG_3130Okay so here is a view from the top: I processed the bread and then the parsely.  After I added an onion, some cumin, a squidge of the tomato paste, a good pinch of salt and, last, the bright orange you see on the right, some sweet paprika.

IMG_3131Remember these?  Time to add them.

IMG_3133IMG_3134IMG_3135The end result was somewhat sticky.

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I transferred this mix to a bowl, and added Italian breadcrumbs, which are very dry, a tablespoon of freshly grated parmigiano, and 1 egg.   I used a spoon to bring the mix together, adding more and more breadcrumbs until I reached the consistency I was after.

A little on the laborious side but not rocket science, it was now time to shape the mix into patties .  I prevailed upon my husband to do this while he was watching some news on the TV.   If he can do this, anyone can.    (Not that I was idly lounging about, I hasten to add, I was otherwise occupied in the kitchen and getting our dinner ready.  The patties were just an ‘extra’.)

I left the patties in the fridge overnight.  I fried them in ordinary groundnut oil, the next day, and served them with some tahini sauce.

I had been asked over to a potluck dinner at a friend’s house and all was well.

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That’s some tahini sauce in the middle.

2I suppose you could also serve them with ketchup, why not?  A squeeze of lemon?  Leave the egg and cheese out, and these can be served as a vegan dish too.

To me … these polpette speak of summer and warmth and longer days.

A Non-Recipe Recipe with Ricotta

Some recipes don’t call for much work.  This is one of them.

Avail yourselves of the best quality ricotta you can find – preferably ewe’s milk ricotta as opposed to cow’s  milk – and press it firmly into a baking dish.

Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees Celsius, shall we say?) until it ‘sets’, until it forms a golden crust.  This can take anything between 20 and 40 minutes depending on the amount of ricotta and the temperamental variations of any home oven.

Once it is out of the oven, drizzle some olive oil all over the surface and add generous amounts of black pepper.

Serve.

Next time you are asked to contribute something for a potluck dinner, send grateful thoughts my way as other guests dig into this ricotta and utter exclamations of pleasure.  Ah the delights of simplicity !

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Please Don’t Call This Hummus: Paté di Ceci

I think that, just as with Neapolitan Pizza , Hummus (and yes I have spelled it with a capital H) ought to be placed on UNESCO’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.  That is how much I love it and respect it.  So when I come across various patés or mashes dubbed ‘hummus’ just because the ingredients of the dish are puréed – I get really cross.  What I am going to describe below is a paté, okay?  A chickpea paté and NOT Hummus even though the ingredients are very similar.  The word for chickpeas in Italian is “ceci”, pronounced “chay-chee”.

I first tasted this paté in a restaurant in Northern Lazio over ten years ago.  It was served over toasted bread underneath a layer of dark green vegetables and topped with shavings of pecorino.  Another time it was served, again placed upon toasted bread, over a layer of melted lard.  Delicious combinations can be sought.

INGREDIENTS: 1 jar of previously cooked chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary, lemon juice, salt and pepper

Begin by draining the chickpeas.  I prefer chickpeas that come out of a glass jar rather than a tin can.

1Rinse the chickpeas well.  It dawned on me that this is a vegan friendly recipe.  And then I remembered that many vegans use the cooking water of the chickpeas as a substitute for egg whites.  They have called it “aquafaba”.  Even I, an ominovore, tried making it once, just for the fun of it, and it worked.  The cooking water when whisked looked just like beaten egg whites.  Then I came across an article that explained how aquafaba is actually not at all good for us, quite the opposite.  So if you are vegan and are reading this, or have friends and family who are, please stay well away from aquafaba.  See the link below explaining the whys and wherefores and providing an alternative.

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In a small saucepan, cook some garlic in olive oil and add a sprig of rosemary.  Make sure the garlic does not brown.

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Rotten photo, my apologies.  It was supposed to show that the garlic had turned golden over a low heat.  Switch the heat off at this point.  And transfer the saucepan to a work surface (i.e. away from heat).
Time to add the chickpeas.   Toss them around so that they become coated with the rosemary and garlic scented oil.

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Remove the rosemary.

If you are scared of garlic, and many people are (including Queen Elizabeth of England), remove the garlic at this point too.  But I promise you that cooked garlic is not so pungent and imparts a subtle je ne sais quoi to the final taste.  It’s always a question of balance.  It all depends on how strong the garlic is in the first place, and how much you actually add.

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Now you can switch the heat off.  Add a little water.  Not too much.  About half a glass? You can always add more water later.

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Add salt and pepper.  Blend the chickpeas until you get a texture/consistency that you like.  Taste.  Maybe add more salt or pepper?  Add some lemon juice.  Again, not too much, maybe 1 tablespoon.  Blend again.  Taste again.  Almost there.

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More rosemary. Slice it very very thinly and add it to the paté.

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Cover and store it in the fridge until you need it.  Remove from the fridge at least one hour before you do.

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That evening, we served the chickpea paté over squares of white pizza (pizza that had been baked in a wood-fired oven here in Frascati, a famous bakery by the name of Ceralli).  We added a teensy slice of celery on some of the squares.  (Don’t ask about what else is on the plate if you are on a diet: fried pizza buns containing porchetta and more white pizza containing sliced mortadella). They are just great as an antipasto – nibble – starter, whatever you want to call it.

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Here I am enjoying a Spritz with my friend Carla just as we were about to serve them.

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And here is a close-up of what leftovers looked like the next day – not very appetising, let’s face it.  So … the moral of this story is, serve and eat straight away.

And don’t forget the ‘other’ morality tale concerning aquafaba:

What Is Aquafaba and Why I Won’t Use It

Artichoke Soufflé (Sformato di Carciofo)

This is how the late and much missed freelance writer Kyle Phillips, a Tuscany-based food and wine lover and expert, described a sformato.  “A sformato is similar to a soufflé, but not as airy, and therefore doesn’t require the care in preparation its French cousin does — there’s no danger that it will deflate.”

The reason my last previous blog was all about soufflé is that I was making a soufflé with cooked artichokes in it.

When I looked at the sheer amount of artichokes, I realized that I did not have a large enough soufflé dish to accommodate it. Not to worry – I went for an oven dish that was indeed large enough.  The only ‘problem’ I realized, however, was that the soufflé would now not ‘rise’ as such because the mixture would be spread out too thinly.  No problem!  Instead of a soufflé, I would make a sformato. Call if a flan if you prefer.

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This is the saucepan containing a mash of three cooked artichokes, which I had blended together with some grated pecorino, cream, salt and pepper and lots of fresh mint.  At this stage, the mash was a little warmer than room temperature.

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I then proceeded to make the roux for the soufflé (6 egg yolks etc – see previous blog).

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I then combined the soufflé roux with the artichoke mash, and transferred it to a mixing bowl.4I buttered the large oven dish.

5I then whisked the 6 egg whites with an eletric whisk until nice and firm.

6I added some of the egg whites to the artichoke mash – to loosen it up a little.  It was pretty thick.  Be gentle.

7And then of course I added the rest of the egg whites, being careful not to combine too vigorously for fear of ruining the ‘airiness’ of it all.

8It all got transferred to the oval oven dish.

9I popped it into the hot oven, at 190°C.  It cooked for about 35 minutes.

10And here it is out of the oven and ready to be eaten.

And very nice it was too.  Pecorino cheese and artichoke are best friends.

This is good to eat even at room temperature.  Perfect for a picnic, why not?

Below is a link to another website that quotes Kyle Phillips and sformato making, just in case you might be interested.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-make-a-spinach-sformato-2019091

Soufflé Olé

Below you can read a post I wrote about soufflé making on my previous blog (My Home Food That’s Amore). I wrote the post almost seven years ago but nothing has changed in the way I make it.  I continue to like its relative simplicity and everyone seems to like it.

The Suave Soufflé: Food that gets Blown into Deliciousness

The poor soufflé is saddled with a bad reputation for being difficult to make.  I would say that a superb soufflé might be arduous to produce but that an ordinary, jolly good one is easy peasy and should definitely be included in the midweek supper menu, especially when the weather starts sending out signals of nippiness.  Alan Davidson in the Oxford Compantion to Food [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 735), gives us the following historical vital statistics on the soufflé:

Souffle – A French word which literally means “puffed up,” is a culinary term in both French and English (and used in many other languages) for a light, frothy dish, just stiff enough to hold its shape, and which may be savory or sweet, hot or cold.The basic hot souffle has as its starting point a roux–a cooked mixture of flour and butter…This type of souffle was a French invention of the late 18th century. Beauvilliers was making souffles possibly as early as 1782 (though he did not publish his L’Art du cusinier until 1814).

Recipes for various kinds appear in Louis Ude’s The French Cook of 1813, a work which promises a “new method of giving good and extremely cheap fashionable suppers at routs and soirees. Later, in 1841, Careme’s Patissier Royal Parisien goes into great detail on the technique of making souffles, from which it is clear that cooks had been having much trouble with souffles that collapsed. The dish acquired a reputation for difficulty and proneness to accidents which it does not really deserve…There are some Ukranian and Russian dishes of the hot souffle type, independently evolved and slightly different in composition.”

I owe my basic soufflé recipe to Delia Smith and have always found it to be very reliable (thank you Delia!).  The BEST thing about a soufflé is that you can prepare most of it, if need be, the day before — which is an excellent idea for when you are having people over to dinner.  The mixture can be doled out into individual ramekins instead of a single oven dish and that makes it quicker to serve too, as well as making the presentation an engaging one.   You can add all sorts of puréed vegetables or other ingredients to the basic soufflé mix and chime in with whatever is in season: squash, courgettes, artichokes and mushrooms for instance.

This is going to be quite a long post, be warned.  But once mastered, the steps prove to be very intuitive and easily remembered.

Here are the ingredients: 6 eggs, 200g cheese, 300ml milk, 50g butter, 50g flour, a pinch of cayenne pepper, a pinch of mustard powder, a twist of freshly grated nutmeg (not shown in the photo) and salt and pepper.  This will be enough to feed 6-8 people.  If, instead, there are going to be 3-4 to dinner, and there is plenty of other food on the menu, then use half of these recommended doses.  Regarding what cheese to use: use a mixture of cheeses if you like, why not, and bear in mind cheddar, emmenthal, gruyère, fontina and parmesan.

The first thing to do is turn the oven on, at 190°C and then grease your ramekins or soufflé dish with butter.  Set aside. (PS – the oven setting should NOT be convection – the air blowing around the oven would not be hepful for soufflés.)

Then, start the recipe by cracking the eggs and separating the yolks from the whites in different bowls.  Place the bowl containing the egg whites in the fridge — this will make it easier to whisk them later on.

Place the flour, butter, cayenne pepper and mustard powder in a saucepan.  Arm yourself with a whisk and a wooden spoon, you are going to need them.

Switch on the heat and very soon it will start looking like this … use the whisk to mix all the ingredients and cook for about 1 minute (or less).

Now add the milk.  A little at a time, using one hand, and whisking away with the other hand.  It might look ‘lumpy’ at first, but don’t worry.  Keep whisking and it will all meld beautifully.

See?  Now is the time to switch to the wooden spoon.

Stir away to cook the mixture (roux) for about 2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper.

Now add the cheese.  Ahem … what you see in the photo is not quite ‘proper’.  The proper thing to do is to grate the cheese first — but I was in a hurry that evening.  No matter.  The cheese did melt eventually, it just took longer that’s all.

Here is the proof that the cubes of cheese did melt!  Now switch off the heat.

Beat the egg yolks well with a fork or whisk and add them a little at a time to the roux. In order for the egg yolks to combine perfectly with the roux, it is a good idea to add them one at a time.  That is the ‘proper’ thing to do.  Ahem … I wasn’t in a ‘proper’ mood that evening, evidently, and added the beaten egg yolks all together.

But I did stir away with great vigour and zest with my trusty wooden spoon!

All combined and golden and gleaming.  I call this the end of “Phase I”.

Phase II:

Take the bowl containing the egg whites out of the fridge and get hold of your electric beater.  You could try whisking them by hand … you could … but I wouldn’t advise it, too much elbow work unless you are an expert at it.

Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and then whisk away until you get the cloudy, foamy, frothy peaks that are going to put the souffle into your soufflé!

And here we are, ready to combine the two.

Start by putting a large spoonful of the beaten egg whites into the golden roux and mixing well.  This will loosen it up a little.

Then mix the whole lot together — but very gently! you don’t want the bubbles of air that make the egg whites stiff to lose their fluffiness.  When combining, remember to stir the spatula or wooden spoon (whatever you prefer) in a downward-to-upward movement as opposed to a round-and-round movement.  This protects those precious bubbles of air.

Then pour the mixture into the butter-greased soufflé bowl – in this case it was an oval pyrex dish, very 1970s!

Give it one final gentle stir.

The ‘proper’ temperature for cooking the soufflé is, apparently, 180°C — but experience has taught me that on my oven at least, the closer the temperature is to 200°C the better.  Every oven is quirky in its own way, so the best advice I can give you is to try it at 190°C (I’m very good at compromise).

Cook until ready.  How often have I read that in a recipe and been very irritated with the recipe writer for not being more specific!  All I can say is that, again, depending on the temperamental quirkiness of your own oven, this soufflé can take any time between 25 and  35 minutes.  Since it is considered the height of tabu to open the oven door while the soufflé is cooking — I would advise that you opt for a sensible 30 minute cooking time.

Here is the soufflé served with spinach.

Here is another soufflé I made in another pyrex dish.

Served with salad that time …

And that is the end of Soufflé Story for today except for one super time-saving and mood-enhancing tip, and that is that most of the soufflé can be prepared the day before!  Yes! And that is very good news if you are having people over to dinner and want to spend more time talking with them than you do preparing food in the kitchen (that’s what I meant by mood enhancing).  On Day 1, follow the instructions all the way to Phase I.  Then put everything in the fridge, covering both the egg-white bowl and the roux with clingfilm/saran wrap/plastic food wrapping.  On Day 2, take the roux out of the fridge at least one hour before cooking time (it has to be at room temperature, in other words).  Proceed with Phase II.  Don’t I deserve a medal for telling you that? I think I do!

POST SCRIPTUM – SOUFFLE WITH SQUASH

The idea was to add pumpkin to my cheese soufflé.  I poached the pumpkin in milk, adding garlic and sage leaves too.

I also added some olive oil and a strange salt I picked up, made with maple syrup.  Use ordinary salt by all means!  Those little beads scattered on the pumpkin are coriander — about one teaspoon.Once the squash was cooked, I mashed it up with a wooden spoon first …And then passed it through a food mill to get the texture I was after — a very smooth one.  I tasted it again and then added a bit more salt and pepper.  I was cooking 10 ramekins and so added 10 spoons of this pumpkin puré to the soufflé roux at the end of Phase I.

Previously I had placed fairly thin slices of the pumpkin in the oven, and cooked them for 15 minutes.  I also cut up some pancetta and cooked that until crispy.  When the ramekins of soufflé came out of the oven, I placed the slices of pumpkin and the pancetta on top of each one.  I was going to garnish the ramekins with fresh sage leaves but my friend Diane had the brilliant idea of  coating them with flour and cooking them quickly in olive oil for an added dash of both taste and texture, as well as presentation.

This photo gives you an idea.  If you look closely, you can see the pancetta, the slices of oven-cooked slices of squash and the sage leaves.  All in all, a very nice autumnal soufflé!

When Life Hands you Cod (Baccalà)

Making lemonade with lemons is easy enough but what does one do when one is handed cod, and FROZEN dried cod at that, aha?

Actually, frozen dried cod is sheer bliss — and sssshhh! don’t say I said so to the fresh-fish police of whom I am an honoured member.  Dried cod or salt cod that hails from Northern freezing cold seas is known as “baccalà” in Italian and became a staple fish dish all over the Peninsula, even in cities such as Naples and Venice that live upon the sea, and certainly would not need to import fish from the waters of Scandinavia.  Over centuries, each region of Italy has developed its own approach to this fish and so, ironically, it might even be the most ‘Italian’ fish of them all.  Again, don’t say I said so.  (We Italians are very proprietorial about our recipes and perish the thought that an Italian recipe might rely on a foreign influence, puah!)

But back to cold-chain basics and the ease of the freeze.

I knew I would not have time to shop one evening last week and rummaged around in my freezer until my aching blue-tinged hand chanced upon a large fillet of frozen baccalà.  I removed it and popped it into a large bowl, poured water over it and left home only to return eight hours later.  Sigh.  To be  honest I was not in one of my gleeful “let’s make a great dinner out of nothing” moods.  Quite the opposite.  And sometimes, that’s when magic happens in the kitchen.  Full of resolve, hands on hip, mentally defying the idiocy of wanting to attempt such an undertaking at 8:30 p.m., I set about cooking three separate recipes with said one fillet of now defrosted baccalà.

See for yourselves.

P.S.  It’s a good job my husband is a patient man.  Also, that he likes to watch current affairs on TV while I concoct dinner.  So I would like to dedicate this post to him and also to Mr Victor Hazan, whom I know appreciates fish over meat.

I sliced the fillet into three.

First recipe was “Mantecato di Baccalà”, known as brandade in French.  Basically, it’s just a puré of the fish, and nice to eat with toast for instance.

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I placed the cod in a small pan, adding enough milk to cover it, and slices of both lemon and orange zest.  Bring the milk to the boil and then drain the fish.

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You can see the lemon and orange in the photo, which are to be removed at this stage. Add one clove of very thinly sliced garlic, some chives, and a good dollop of olive oil.

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Blend the fish and keep adding the olive oil until you reach the right consistency.  Taste and see whether you need to add a little bit of salt? Definitely a twist of white pepper.  I ended up adding a wee wee dribble of milk too, for extra smoothness. Done!

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And that’s how I served the brandade, eventually, surrounded by other goodies.  More about them later.

RECIPE NUMBER TWO – Braised cod with vanilla

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I began by chopping an onion, quite roughly at that, and browning it in a saucepan over quite a high heat (I was in a hurry remember?) and adding some chopped up tomatoes after a while. A good sprinkling of salt, naturally.  I then added a vanilla pod and some olives to the sauce before deftly laying in the cod pieces, last.

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It does not take long to cook the cod.  You can see the vanilla pod in the photo above.  The vanilla makes all the difference to the tomato sauce, rendering it more ‘interesting’ in a subtle way.  Also, it would seem I added some fresh rosemary for freshness.

RECIPE NUMBER THREE – FRIED COD

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I wanted to fry the cod in batter, basically because I was going to fry some florets of previously cooked broccoli in batter too.  As all my friends and family know, I am an FFF: a fried food fanatic.  So … as to the batter … normally I make it another way.  On this last occasion I worked backwords.  I poured one cup of water into a bowl and added an egg, and whisked everything up.  I then added flour, by and by, until I reached the consistency of batter that I wanted.  A little dribble of olive oil and an ice cube to get it nice and cold and voilà – batter at the ready.

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I dredged the chunks of cod in some flour.

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I then dunked them in the batter.

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And finally fried the cod and the broccoli florets.

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Fried foods are eaten best hot, which is why I cooked them last.

So just for a recap, here are some more photos:

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Brandade surrounded  by fried cod, fried broccoli and red pepper (yes, I cooked some red pepper too, it was in the fridge looking very lonely).

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Vanilla enhanced braised cod.  By the way don’t you just love this ceramic dish? It’s a creation of Cassandra Wainhouse, who used to have a gorgeous shop in San Gimignano.

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For crunch factor, I quickly fried some phyllo pastry just before we sat down.  It looks like mess, yes, but it worked a treat (I love this ceramic dish too – this one is from Ceramicarte in Certaldo, where Judy Witts Francini lives).

So there … cod is a wonderful fish to play around with, even when it’s frozen.  Take a look at other recipes I toyed around with in the past, perhaps some will grab your fancy:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/mantecato-di-baccala-and-brandade-and-quenelles/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/a-spinach-appetizer-with-salt-cod-quenelles-and-fried-polenta-cubes/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/salt-cod-anonymous/

Fennels for Phyllis – A Tart

No, no no, Phyllis is not a tart.  She’s a friend of mine.

And when it comes to fennel – well, I say, fennels for anybody who likes fennel, and not just Phyllis.

I, however? If fennel were to disappear from the world, I would not miss it.  I feel the same way about cauliflower.  I will and do eat both vegetables, weirdly enough, it’s just that I don’t gush over them.  True, fennel can be eaten on its own, raw, dunked in olive oil with salt and pepper.  Otherwise, just as with cauliflower, it always requires some kind tarting up.  Raw cauliflower? Yikes, no amount of over-seasoned dip can take away its horribleness for me.

I was having this conversation with Phyllis Knudsen, a former chef from Vancouver and author of oracibo.com, whose experience and outlook on food I greatly admire.  That and she cracks me up, she’s really funny and, you will agree, we all need cart loads of humour just now the way the world is going.  I read an article a couple of weeks ago that maintains we are living in a golden age, with statistics to prove the point.  It was written in 2016 and has immense merits (here’s a link if you want to read it: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/08/why-cant-we-see-that-were-living-in-a-golden-age/) – it’s just that it doesn’t often FEEL as though we are living in a golden age, I don’t know about you.  Whatever.  Hats off to all those who make life lighter for us, and that means you too Phyllis.

But back to tarting up and a recipe that turns fennel into a tart with surprisingly good results.  Take a look.

 

Slice the fennel in rounds, quite thick ones at that and cook them in a pan with olive oil and butter over quite a strong heat.

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Turn the fennel rounds over just the once, and sprinkle some salt too.

IMG_1440Silly me, I didn’t take a photo first but … if you look closely on the right hand side above, you will see an amber-coloured goo underneath the cooked fennel.  That goo is gorgeous honey.  So, avail yourself of a 26cm baking tray and enjoy the zen-like activity of trickling honey over the tray (not too much honey, however!).

Turn the oven on at 200° Celsius.

IMG_1442Scatter a good amount of grated parmesan cheese over the fennel.  Add some thyme if you have any.  I didn’t and had to make do with oregano.

IMG_1443Cover the fennel with pastry.  This was store bought, so easy peasy.  Use a fork to make some holes in the pastry.  And bake for about 30-35 minutes.

IMG_1449The pastry has puffed up beautifully.

Get hold of a plate that will cover the baking tray and turn the tart over, onto the plate/dish.

IMG_1451Add some fennel fronds to the tart, to add freshness.

IMG_1454IMG_1453And was it good, you might wonder?

Indeed it was.  And I shall definitely make this again.  And I still  maintain that fennel needs pampering, bla bla bla, droning on and on and on ….