keito potato

Italian Arugula and Fennel Salad with Basil Dressing
August 4, 2012, 11:12 pm
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , , , , ,

This salad was one of the show-stoppers at a recent vegetarian cooking group meal.  My friends Nina and Tim planned an Italian menu, and this flavorful salad was phenomenal.  I have become addicted to it in the last two weeks, and have probably made it five times in that period of time.  I normally love the black-pepper-spiciness of arugula salads, and this one is unique with refreshing fennel slices, and the thick basil dressing.  The green opaque basil dressing is as thick as pesto, but with more flavor and less oil.  I would love to use this in other dishes where I used to use pesto.  The lemon, fennel fronds, and touch of honey all lift and brighten the basil flavor.  It tastes like the essence of summer.

You will need a sharp vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb.  I tried making this one time by slicing the fennel, but the slices were too thick and crunchy.  The fennel really needs to be shaved, so that it is fluffy and feathery. Many stores sell vegetarian parmesan (without animal rennet).  Trader Joe’s has a handy guide about various types of rennet in their products, and their vegetarian parmesan is shredded and comes in a bag.


2 bunches of arugula

1-2 fennel bulbs

1/2 bunch fresh basil

1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

5 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon honey parmesan or pecorino cheese


Zest the lemon.  With a sharp knife, remove the white pith.  Put the inner part of the lemon into a food processor.  Add the basil, fennel seeds, the fluffy fennel greens from the stalks, 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Puree.  Gradually add the 5th tablespoon of olive oil, if needed.  Now add the lemon zest, honey, salt, and pepper to the dressing.  Puree again to mix.  You can make this a few hours ahead of time, and chill in the refrigerator, if needed. Grate the parmesan or pecorino cheese.  Arrange the gratings onto a lined baking sheet into little flat 2-inch circles.  Broil these in the oven until they melt and turn into little disks.

Arrange the arugula in a large bowl or a wide platter.  Use a sharp vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb.  Add the fennel shavings to the salad.  Top the salad with the dressing and disks of broiled cheese.

Eggplant and Fennel Stew Braised in Red Wine
February 9, 2012, 5:20 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , ,

This became a favorite stew this year.  I made it several times over the fall and winter, brought it to potlucks, and served it for extended family over the holidays.  I’m finally posting it to share.  It’s a richly flavored stew that perfumes the kitchen with fennel and red wine.  In contrast to the eggplant stew I posted last fall, in which you briefly saute all of the ingredients together on the stove, and then roast the whole stew in the oven for 2 hours, this stew has the opposite procedure.  You cook the vegetables separately and uniquely, then bring them together in a boozy red wine and herb stew.

The procedure for roasting the fennel was new to me.  You braise quarters of fennel on the stove with olive oil and broth for 5 minutes, then put the pan in the oven to roast for an hour, covered in parchment paper.  This does something magical to the fennel, and is more interesting than simply roasting slices of fennel in olive oil and salt (which was my previous method for roasting fennel).  Now I want to use this braising/roasting method on fennel at other times as a side dish, or a base for other stews as well.  And wouldn’t it be nice on a salad?

This recipe is inspired by Denis Cotter’s fantastic cookbook Cafe Paradiso Seasons.  I think that Julie/Julia gal is pretty OCD, but if I would ever decide to cook my way through a cookbook, it might just be this one.  My two changes are that I’ve cut the eggplants into slightly smaller pieces, and have also salted and rested the cut eggplant cubes before cooking them.  This step draws out liquid from the spongy eggplant cubes, and removes possible bitterness.  Since you have the fennel roasting for an hour, I think you might as well have the eggplant draining during this time.

You can serve this stew with any kind of starchy side.  Today I’m pairing it with thick slices of pan-seared polenta, but it’s also good with rice, couscous, or crusty bread.   Alternatively, it’s a great stew for composing a vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie (to do so, arrange the stew in the bottom of a casserole pan, top it with mashed potatoes, and then bake until the mashed potatoes are golden).   Since a shepherd’s pie is topped with mashed potatoes, I replace the potatoes in the stew with green beans.

A fruity red wine is preferred.  The author Denis Cotter says the first time he made this stew, he drank the rest of the bottle while the stew simmered, “but that’s not always necessary.”

I used chilies and thyme from the garden.  If you’re afraid of the heat, leave the chilies out.


3 fat fennel bulbs

1/3 cup olive oil

18 ounces vegetable stock (separated as 1 cup and 1  1/4 cup)

2 large eggplants

18 ounces potatoes

28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes

6 cloves galic

2-4 fresh chilies

2-3 sprigs thyme

10 ounces (1  1/4 cup) red wine

salt, to season


Trim the greens off the top of the fennel bulbs and slice a thin sliver off the root end.  Then slice the bulbs into quarters.  Place them in a cast iron pan or skillet with tall sides (something that you an use both on the stove and in the oven), together with 1/3 cup olive oil and 1 cup vegetable broth.  Bring it to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Cover the pot loosely with parchment paper and bake in the oven at 350F for 1 hour.  Check occasionally to see if there is enough liquid, and you may need to turn some of the fennel pieces.  

Here are the before-and-after photos.

In the meantime, peel the eggplant, and cut it into 1-inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in salt, and place in a colander to drain.  After about 30 minutes of draining, pat with paper towels to dry.

During this time, prepare the ingredients for the rest of the stew.  Slice the garlic cloves and the chilies.  Heat them in a large soup pot for 30 seconds or so, and then add the tomatoes.  I crush the whole tomatoes with my hands, or use a cheese grater with large holes to roughly grate the tomatoes.  Cook the tomatoes with the garlic  and chilies for about 5 minutes.  Then add the thyme sprigs, the wine, and the remaining 1 -1/4 cup of vegetable broth.  Season with a little salt, bring to a boil, and then simmer around 20 minutes.

Peel the potatoes.  Quarter them, then cut the quarters into big wedges around 1 -1/2 inches thick.  Steam the potato cubes in a vegetable steamer until soft, around 15-20 minutes.

When the fennel comes out of the oven, it’s time to bake the eggplant.  Place the eggplant in a baking dish (I prefer cast iron), and toss with olive oil.  Bake at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, or until soft.  I usually have the eggplant baking at the same time as I have the potatoes steaming.

Add the roasted fennel and all of its oil juices to the stew.  Add the steamed potatoes and the roasted eggplant.  Bring the stew back to a boil, and simmer again on very low heat, covered, for 15 minutes.  If you have the time, turn off the heat, and let the stew sit for an hour or so to mellow.  Check the seasoning before serving.

Fennel and Potato Stew with Olives and Preserved Lemon
August 3, 2011, 9:02 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , , , , ,

Invariably when I buy fennel, the person standing next to me in the produce section asks me what I do with it.  I usually tell them I slice it and roast it on high heat with olive oil and sea salt.  Roasted fennel is complex and delicious, and I can usually convince my fellow customers to pick up a few bulbs of fennel themselves.  This French stew is my other favorite way with fennel.  I’m drawn to fennel stews from the Mediterranean that are brightened with citrus and perfumed with herbs.  In hot summer weather, when I happen to crave a stew or soup, I want it to be lemony, light, and fresh. 


This stew is an adaptation of a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s cookbook A Year in My Kitchen from the Petersham Nurseries on the outskirts of London.  I have made this stew numerous times, but have gradually made it my own.  Her stew is built on both fennel and artichokes, but I found the artichokes bland actually, in comparison to the fennel.  I have finally landed on substituting yellow potatoes for the artichokes, and found that they pair perfectly with the fennel.  I have also omitted the saffron threads from the original recipe.  The flavors of the stew are so vibrant that the soft and subtle saffron is lost.  I think it’s a waste of an expensive ingredient.

I have tried several other French fennel stew recipes over the years, but this one is more interesting because of the preserved lemon and olives.  I love letting olives slowly cook into a stew or soup.  They give off a saltiness that is more earthy that plain salt.  If you can’t find preserved lemons at your local Arab market, you can make them at home, or substitute fresh lemon juice (although fresh lemon juice doesn’t have quite the same flavor).  If using fresh lemon juice, you may have to add a bit extra juice to make the stew bright enough.

This recipe calls for a drizzle of “basil oil” for garnish.  This is one of the foundational sauces of Gyngell’s cookbook.  It’s similar to pesto in consistency, but omits the nuts and cheese, and you can use it in a myriad of ways.  Keep in mind that it only keeps 1 week in the fridge, so you might want to make a smaller batch of it, or alternatively simply garnish the stew with a handful of torn basil leaves.

I like to serve this stew with either rice pilaf or couscous, a simple green salad, and dry white wine.  I should also mention that I often make a double batch, especially on evenings like tonight when I’m cooking for guests and want to make sure I have plenty of leftovers.


2 heads fennel

3 waxy yellow potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 tablespoons butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus extra leaves for garnish

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 dried red chili

4 plum tomatoes (or 14-oz canned plum tomatoes)

1/2 preserved lemon, chopped

1/2 cup vegetable broth

about 12 black olives (kalamata, Nicoise, or Ligurian)

freshly grated parmesan to serve

2 tablespoons basil oil (or alternatively, a handful of torn basil leaves)

For the basil oil, combine 3 bunches fresh basil in a food processor with 1 garlic clove, sea salt and black pepper to taste, and 3/4 cup good quality olive oil.  Adjust seasonings and pour into a jar.  It will keep refrigerated for 1 week.


Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  Trim the fennel and cut off the base.  Cut each fennel bulb into quarters.  Peel the potatoes and quarter them lengthwise.

Use a heavy saucepan that is oven-safe, and warm it on the stove at medium-heat.  Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter has melted.  Add the fennel and potatoes.  Season with a little salt and cook for 10 minutes or so.  Add the bay leaves, sage, and garlic.  Crumble in the dried red chili, and stir to combine.  Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the pan, along with the chopped preserved lemon, then pour over the broth. 

Cover and cook in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the fennel is very tender, adding the olives for the last 5-10 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning then spoon over the basil oil (or torn basil), and scatter over some sage leaves to garnish.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan and serve.

April 25, 2011, 7:22 am
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , ,

My family tends to cook Mediterranean dishes for Easter feasts.  The lemon fragrance and bright herbs evoke sunshine and celebrate Spring produce. This year we made a pan of Greek Spanakopita, the famous spinach pie wrapped in flaky phyllo dough. Of course you can easily find pre-made spinach triangles in most grocery freezer cases, but those frozen ones typically have a bland, one-dimensional spinach flavor. This recipe from Diane Kochilas’ cookbook The Greek Vegetarian is much  more interesting.  The filling is complex because the spinach is combined with fresh parsley and dill, sauteed fennel and onions, crumbled feta, and grated nutmeg.  It tastes as good as the fab Spanakopita I’ve had in serious Greek restaurants in Chicago.

Phyllo dough is definitely not scary or tricky to work with.  You can find it in most any grocery store (except trader joe’s).  Just make sure to let it thaw according to instructions before using.  I forgot to thaw it once, and it shattered into brittle shards.  Diane Kochilas rolls her phyllo from scratch, but I have always bought phyllo sheets from the store.

You can choose between adding cayenne or raisins to the filling.  Yesterday’s version had cayenne, but I think I prefer the raisins.  It’s up to you.

This recipe makes a whole pan of spanakopita, which is simpler to create than individual triangles.  To assemble such a thing, one layers several sheets of phylo dough in a pan, brushing each with olive oil.  At some point you pause to pour in the spinach filling.  Then arrange several more layers of phylo, also brushed with olive oil.  Bake, and voila.


olive oil
2 pounds fresh spinach
3 medium-size onions
1 fennel bulb
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 eggs
8 oz. feta
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or 2-3 tablespoons dark seedless raisins, depending on your mood)
several sheets of phyllo dough


Chop the onions. Chop the fennel bulb. Wash and chop the spinach.

In a large heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute the spinach lightly, just to wilt.  Remove the spinach with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.  Heat 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and add the chopped onions and fennel.  Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until wilted, about 7 minutes.

Place the spinach, fennel, and onions in a large bowl.  Chop the dill and parsley, and add them to the bowl.  Lightly whisk the 2 eggs in a small bowl, then add them to the mixture, along with 2 more tablespoons of olive oil.  Mix well.  Crumble the feta, and add it to the bowl, along with the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne (or raisins).

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Lightly oil a pan.  Diane Kochilas uses a 12-inch pie pan, but I generally use a rectangular pan.  Lay a sheet of phyllo in the pan.  The edges will hang over the edges.  Brush this phyllo layer with oil.  If you don’t have a pastry brush, just drizzle on the oil and rub it around with your (clean) fingertips.  Repeat with 3-4 more sheets of phyllo, brushing each with olive oil.  Spread the filling evenly over the phyllo. 


Pull up the outer edges of the phyllo layers, and wrap them around the filling, neatly.  Top with 3-5 more layers of phyllo, each brushed with olive oil. To tuck the top layers down, gently tuck them into the edges of the pan using a metal spatula.

Bake for 50 minutes or more, until the phyllo is golden.