GOD-DESS

Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

September 2006
© 2006 by Bret S. Beall

SEASONAL ROASTING: FANTASTIC FENNEL AND SCRUMPTIOUS SUMMER SQUASH (INCLUDING ZIPPY ZUCCHINI)

Sometimes I think I'm in a rut. As soon as the weather starts to cool after summer, the first thing I think about is ROASTING! I've already written lots about roasting in previous columns [see http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesApril03.html, http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesOctober03.html, http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesNov03.html, http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMar04.html and http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipes_Winter2005_2006.html], but I wanted to share clear instructions for a couple of unconventional items that are simply DELICIOUS when roasted: fennel and summer squash (zucchini, patty pans, etc.).

ROASTED FENNEL

I don't use a lot of fennel in my cooking, but I do enjoy it. However, be aware that a little goes a long way. I remember dining at a very upscale restaurant in Portland; the only negative comment I had read about this restaurant was that the chef used too much fennel in his cooking. Imagine my surprise when I went to the restaurant with a friend who had dined there previously and LOVED it, and of the four dishes we shared, THREE had fennel in them. We were much more impressed with the use of fennel in a dish that we enjoyed recently at Timothy's Restaurant at the Gordon Beach Inn in Union Pier, MI; one of our courses was an amazing course of roasted mussels in a roasted garlic and saffron broth, served with pickled fennel ... while the mussels were rather tough and overcooked, the broth accented by the pickled fennel was amazing (look for my version of that sauce/broth in a future Global Organic Designs column or newsletter).

Fennel (especially raw) is full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Folate; it also has some Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin and Pantotheic Acid. As a source of minerals, fennel is a great provider of Potassium, with lesser quantities of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. While all of that is important, the distinctly anise flavor of raw fennel is the draw in most cases, making fennel a distinct element when added to salads (accompanied by apples, orange supremes, and arugula), or cooked into a ragout as one of the aromatics [insert link], or added to a risotto as an aromatic (one of these days I will introduce a super easy and ultra delicious risotto recipe), or sautéed as a bed for pan-seared salmon or your favorite fish/meat/poultry.

When roasted, fennel mellows, losing much of its anise flavor until it's just a whisper, and changing the overall flavor to one similar to celeriac, but with a different texture; in other words, it's unique, so give it a try in some of the applications described below, and you'll feel emboldened to create your own delicacies. It's good hot, warm, and cold, and can be frozen very well for future use.

Heat the oven to 500°F. Cut the fennel bulb in half longitudinally, then remove the leaf bases and wash them thoroughly; they really hold the dirt! Cut each leaf base into ¼" slices. Continue cutting into the leaf itself until the knife encounters resistance. You should have about 3 to 4 c.

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, and stir to coat the fennel well. Pour the fennel slices into a baking dish or sheet pan (consider lining with aluminum for easy clean up) large enough to allow the fennel to lie in a single layer (I use a 9" x 15" Pyrex baking dish, just to give you an idea of size), and place in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, stirring the mixture every 5 to 7 minutes using a spatula to turn the pieces. Yield is about 1 c of roasted fennel. Serve as a side dish, use as a bed for your favorite fish/poultry/meat, use in any of the applications below, or freeze in a tightly sealed, labeled and dated container (in fact, since you're turning on the oven and going to so much effort, why not double or triple the recipe so that you have plenty to freeze for future use?).

Applications:

Pasta sauce with olive oil, roasted fennel and black pepper: Chop a batch of roasted fennel coarsely. Cook ½ lb pasta (your choice of shape) in salted water. Heat ¼ c flavorful extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the fennel to the oil and heat until warm. When the pasta is cooked al dente, reserve ¼ c of the cooking liquid, and drain the pasta. Pour the cooked pasta into the skillet with the heating fennel and olive oil, stir to cover the pasta well with the olive oil, and distribute the fennel pieces. Grind about 40 turns of black pepper onto the pasta, and add as much of the reserved soaking liquid as needed to loosen the mixture as you stir the pasta to distribute the pepper and other ingredients. Top and toss with ground pecorino or your favorite hard cheese. Serves four as a first course, or two as a main course with a side salad.

Bret's Multipurpose Ragout with Fennel: For either the basic ragout recipe or the roasted version (found at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSeptember03.html), substitute roasted fennel for some or all of the onion, or just add a cup or two (that's one or two batches) of roasted fennel to the recipe for that "je ne sais quoi."

Roasted Fennel and Orange Salad: Raw fennel and orange salad is a classic; try substituting the roasted fennel for the raw. Use about ½ c of roasted fennel (1/2 batch) per orange. Peel each orange (manually or with a knife), cut supremes (wedges cut out from between the membranes) and arrange the supremes attractively on a plate. Sprinkle the roasted fennel on top, along with some Italian parsley leaflets. Add salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Bruschetta with roasted fennel and tapenade: Toast slices of bread in a toaster oven, dry skillet, or on a grill. Rub with garlic. Spread with tapenade (olive paste, preferably homemade, using the recipe at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMay04.html, or if you must, use a bottled version). Arrange the roasted fennel generously on top (optionally, add some Italian parsley, or arugula to the top of the tapenade prior to adding the roasted fennel), drizzle with a bit of flavorful olive oil, and serve immediately.

Other applications: Try substituting the roasted fennel for onion in any of your favorite recipes. You'll be amazed by the flavor and textural effects!

ROASTED SUMMER SQUASH

Zucchini are the most famous summer squash, but all summer squash can be used in very similar ways due to their similar cellular structure. Because they are abundant during the summer, and because I don't do much roasting during the summer, I don't roast zucchini or other summer squash very often. But, we recently had a cool spell in Chicago, so I roasted some zukes, and was reminded of why I like them so much, having those little cubes of concentrated and toasty summer squash flavor.

I've previously shared roasted winter squash recipes and techniques [http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesNov03.html]. Because their cellular structure is different, the roasting techniques are quite different. Winter squash are roasted at lower temps for longer periods of time, like potatoes. Summer squash, because they are so full of water, are best roasted at high temps for shorter periods of time, like tomatoes.

Preheat oven to 500°F. Cut the ends off of the zucchini, then cut in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into eight strips of approximately the same size. Cut the strips into strips into 3/8" wedges (yielding 1.5-2 c). If using patty pan or other summer squash, cut them so that you end up with approximately 3/8" pieces. Toss the squash pieces in a mixing bowl with the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper until the pieces are well coated.

Pour the squash pieces into a baking dish or sheet pan (consider lining with aluminum for easy clean up) large enough to allow the squash to lie in a single layer (I use a 12" x 18" baking sheet for a double batch, just to give you an idea of size), and place in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until nicely browned. Stir the mixture every 5 to 7 minutes using a spatula to turn the pieces. Yield is about ½ c of roasted summer squash. Serve as a side dish, use as a bed for your favorite fish/poultry/meat, toss with pasta, olive oil and grated cheese, top bruschetta with a bit of basil (and maybe some sun dried tomatoes and shaved parmesan), use in the application below, or freeze in a tightly sealed, labeled and dated container (freezing will result in some loss of texture, but the flavor will still be there!).

Application:

Ratatouille: My ratatouille (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesAugust04.html) is unusually delicious because it relies on the freshest of ingredients, and avoids the need for herbs because roasted red peppers are used instead of simply sautéed peppers. Imagine the intensity of flavor if you substituted roasted summer squash for the sautéed zucchini in the recipe! Do it! And if you really want a fun variation, substitute roasted fennel (recipe above) for the onion. Your guests won't know what hit them!

The autumn harvest season is in full bloom in the Northern Hemisphere right now, and will continue for another couple of months (hooray!). In the Southern Hemisphere, spring is approaching. Let me know what you are doing with your local bounty at 773.508.9208 or email, or tell me about your successes with Simple! Sensible! Sensational® recipes. Thanks in advance for your feedback! If you want individualized instruction, use the same methods to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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