I went to my fruit guy in Jean-Talon, Leopoldo. He doesn’t do local. Neither did he have ataulfo mangoes (though he did the next week), and I knew the white peach and white nectarine seasons were over, so why did I go back to him? Because that’s my Sunday. He makes my Sunday a happier day, what with his slightly intimidating self-assured nature that inspires trust.
And it turned out that white nectarines are back in season in California!!! I nearly died of joy. Leopoldo said they were good, so I bought them. They were better than the Ontario ones, he said (and he was right, since I haven’t had a really good Ontario one all season for some reason…you can’t get the sweeter white ones from there now anyway, and I’m very picky). Unfortunately he was wrong about them being good, and my world collapsed a little, my heart tore at its tender seams, and I felt a bit spiritually lost.
Every last nectarine tasted like starch. It’s true they weren’t ripening properly in my frigid kitchen (1 degree celcius yesterday! That’s madness) but they just turned to mush and went bad. There were a few that were almost trying to be flavourful, but they failed miserably…
But this post is not about nectarines. It’s about fennel. Those too I found at Leopoldo’s before I knew how crushed my heart could be by a man and his nectarines.
I have an ongoing love affair with fennel. I used to hate the anise flavour of the vegetable until I found a recipe a few years ago that said to roast it and then add a tiny, tiny bit of lemon juice and the natural sweetness of the vegetable comes out and the bitterness gets roasted away. I ate a whole fennel bulb that way and again nearly died of joy. I suppose I have a lot of near-death experiences with fruits and vegetables…
In Quebec this season the rain hasn’t been right for fennel growing. I bought local, organic ones only once this summer and braised them with fibrous, wiry results (recipe #2 in my “Recipe For Disaster” cookbook?) AND they were really expensive! $3 or $3.50 for just one dwarfed heart.
But Leopoldo had a sale on. $5 for 3 of the big, juicy ones. I was sold. Even on the last organic farmers’ market day of the season of Marché Fermier I chose to take up valuable granny cart space with three big bulbs of non-local fennel. That’s how much I love these things.
So I decided to roast two of these guys according to my roasting bible in a recipe meant for pasta sauce, but which I would just have just with bread, and then I’d roast the third bulb according to my standard, simple roasted fennel with lemon recipe. Here’s the first:
Roasted Fennel with Tomato (Pasta Sauce or Bread Topping or Sandwich Filling…or Snack)
2 bulbs fennel
1 head garlic (mmm…roasted garlic…)
1 tbsp fennel seeds (overkill, but nice)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 plum tomatoes, chopped (I used fresh green ones…bad idea! They weren’t nearly sweet enough and they weren’t plums, so the acidic, bitter juices got into the fennel and killed them in their over-heated sleep. You’re also only supposed to end up with 2/3rds of a cup, but I had about a cup and a half of tomatoes to use up, so that’s what went in…again, not a good idea. Try to cut the tomatoes evenly so they roast evenly, and again, smaller is better)
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt (or other) and ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 Fahrenheit. Cut the fennel bulbs (wash them first) through the core and into quarters. Then cut out the tough core of each. Finally slice the outer layers into 1/8″ slices. It doesn’t really matter how thickly you slice them. They’ll just take more or less time to cook, but I find the thinner ones end up crisper and the bigger ones are more watery, so slimmer is better in this case. In a BIG baking sheet or roasting pan toss the fennel slices with everything else and spread it as thinly as possible in the pan.
Once the oven is preheated, roast the fennel for 35-45 minutes. Don’t stir or turn unless it’s looking as though it’ll burn at any second and it’s not quite done yet. Voila dinner.
If you want to make this into pasta sauce, cook some pasta, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the roasted mixture, scraping in all the delicious blackened bits. Add about 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, then tear a cup of fresh basil leaves from their stems and add those. To serve, toss in a little mozzarella or parmiggiano reggiano (please, please, please do not use pre-powdered “parmesan” cheese. You’ll break my heart more than the nectarines and Leopoldo did).
You know, I was expecting the fennel to make up for the lacklustre nectarines, but again, I was a little disappointed. I mean, they weren’t bad, but I think I cut them too thickly and they ended up too watery. I also think my tomatoes were too juicy (and I used too many), but really the fennel flavour should have still been strong and dreamy, and I should have fallen in love with the aroma from my kitchen. In and out, in and out…I know, it’s a bad cycle.
Alas, food is fickle and my heart is not a plaything. I also feel as though maybe I deserved this for buying so much imported fruit and vegetables. Surely the flavour just couldn’t be as good as what I could get organic and local. Maybe I’m the fickle one, since the next day I fell in love with eggplant all over again. Well, to be fair, I fell in love with eggplant in sesame oil, so I mostly fell in love with a quarter cup of sesame oil. That sponge-y local, organic eggplant just soaked it all up and caressed my broken heart (and stomach).