Thursday, May 12, 2016

Week 16 - Root to Stem

The theme for Week 16 of the challenge was root to stem, sort of like nose to tail but more inclusive of people who wouldn't be doing meat challenges. I'm not really into buying and using whole animals or fish, so I knew I'd be going with vegetables. But what would I pick? The only things I came up with were beets and beet greens (which we've made before) and using all the parts of fennel (which I had never done before). I decided to go with the fennel. Most recipes that I found discarded the fronds and the stalks and used only the bulbs, but I did find one for braised fennel (source here) that seemed to use all (or most) of it so I used that as my starting point.

The ingredients I used were:

- 2 whole pieces (what's the right terminology?) of fennel ($2.49)
- 1 lb of carrots, chopped on the diagonal ($0.75)
- 1 onion, chopped ($0.60)
- 1/2 head of garlic, chopped ($0.08)
- 1 tbsp olive oil ($0.20)
- 2.5 cups of vegetable broth ($0.40)
- dried thyme, a couple tsp ($0.10)

The braised fennel was half of our dinner that night, and cost approximately $4.62. Not too bad, but when combined with the other half of dinner, it wasn't an inexpensive meal.

I had never worked with fennel before at all other than fennel seeds. The recipe I was following cut out the core and didn't mention the stalks at all, but since this was the root to stem challenge, and all of those parts were edible, I decided to use it all. Well, all of it other than the bottom which I cut off just like I do for any other vegetable.

I cut off the fronds, chopped them a little, and put them aside since they would be mostly used as a garnish. I tried to cut the stalks on the smaller side since I had read that they were a little tougher than the bulb. The stalks, bulb, and core all got chopped together since they would all be thrown into the pan together. It was my first time chopping up the fennel but it seemed easy enough.

The actual cooking was fairly standard braising. I heated the olive oil in the pan, then cooked the onion and garlic until it was soft. After that, I added the carrots and fennel, and cooked all of it for a few minutes. Next, I added the vegetable broth and sprinkled on some dried thyme, then brought it to a boil, and then lowered the heat and let it simmer covered for about 25 minutes.

I checked the vegetables after that and they were actually fairly tender, which was good. I tried some of the stalk pieces and they were definitely a little more fibrous than the bulb, but still fine. I let it cook uncovered for another 5-10 minutes. The fronds got added on top as garnish and really brightened the whole thing up.

We ate the braised fennel alongside some really good salmon (more on that in another post). It tasted really clean and healthy, and it felt good to know that there was very little waste at all by using all the parts of the fennel. I love trying out a new vegetable (at least new to our kitchen) and figuring out something good to do with it. I always say I should do that more, and I'm glad it worked out well with the fennel.

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