Archive for December, 2008

12 Ways to Cook Fennel

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Fennel is a wonderful, versatile aromatic vegetable that could be used in numerous dishes and utilizing many cooking methods. This vegetable is widely used in Italian, French and Mediterranean cooking. I have been experimenting with it for over a few years and keep stumbling on more innovative ways to cook it. From substituting onion with fennel (my wife is allergic to alum family, quite unfortunately), roasting meat on it or adding it to stews; fennel is great in many meals and will add new flavors to your culinary repertoire. There are 3 main parts of fennel: The white bulb, green stalks, and green dill-like herbs. There are also seeds of course, but they are to be bought separately as seeds.

Fresh Fennel

Fresh Fennel

Here are 12 basic ways to cook Fennel.

1. Grill it

Simple and straight forward! Cut it into ½ inch wide rounds (much like you would slice an onion), brush it with olive oil and toss it on your well heated grill, or griddle. Grill on each side about 5 minutes until dark golden ridges appear. Grilling fennel with give it sweet and smoky taste.

2. Sauté it

Sauted Fennel

Sauted Fennel

Same thing as with grilling: cut into either ½ inch rounds, or cut vertically into four triangular shapes, then cut each triangle into half again and sauté until golden brown on each side and soft in a tablespoon of olive oil, or oil and butter mixed together. Add a pinch of salt and pepper or season with other fresh herbs to taste.

3. Add to Soups and Stews

I have been looking for a magic solution to getting around my wife’s allergy to onion for years now. The closest I came up with is using a mixture of fennel and green cabbage in soups and stews. It definitely adds great flavor, otherwise absent without onion and comes pretty damn close in texture as well.
Sauté fennel instead of, or with onion and mirepoux in the beginning of making your soup until soft (about 10 minutes) Use similarly in stews, or cut into thicker cubes and add to slow-cooking braises. Fennel is great in braises, as it will flavor wine while its simmering.

4. Add to Stocks

Here is where you can use these seemingly useless green stalks! I save those stalks (you can freeze them) for when I make broth, cut them up into cubes, much how you would treat celery and add them to variety of stocks I make. Add to stocks together with onions, carrots, celery.

5. Roast with other vegetables

Winter and fall roasts can benefit greatly from an addition of fennel. Simply cut into any shape (I usually quarter fennel for my roasts) add potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets, mushrooms, anything else you like roasting, coat with olive oil and your favorite herbs and roast in a Dutch oven or a roasting pan for 45 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees.

6. Use in salads

Great trick to add extra crunch to your salads: Slice very thin (yes that is the trick here), or use a mandolin for best results and add to any salad. I love the addition of fennel to this simple salad:

Simple fall salad:Roasted beets, fresh arugula, shaved fennel & blue cheese.

7. Fennel Gratin

Much like Potato Au Gratin: slice into rounds or triangles, layer in buttered earthenware dish, coat with béchamel sauce (2 tbsp butter + 3 tbsp flour + 2 cups milk, simmered 20 –25 mins), or heavy cream and gruyere & parmesan cheese, a pinch of nutmeg and thyme, repeat the process to create more layers. Generously cover the top layer with cheese and bake for 45 minutes or until soft at 400 degrees. This is a great, traditional Italian dish, often used for Christmas.

8. Use in Sauces

I often infuse my sauces (béchamel or brown sauce for instance) by adding a quarter or a half of fennel pinned with a clove and a bay leaf (this is called piquet). Reduce your stocks with a half a bulb or a few stalks of fennel prior to thickening your sauce.

9. Use as an Aromatic vegetable (to roast meat, chicken, etc with)

Roast (lift up) your meat or chicken on a layer of aromatic vegetables (onions, fennel, carrots, potatoes etc) Then use the fat soaked vegetables as a side dish along the meat. Potatoes are not aromatic actually, but are great because they soak up fat very well.

10. Use in Risotto

Fennel is great in risotto! Sauté finely diced fennel in butter or oil prior to adding rice to the pan, then cook risotto as usual (adding liquid slowly to fat coated rice). I usually add sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts with my fennel risotto (1 ½ cup rice), cooking it in light vegetable broth (4.5 cups) and a cup of white wine (1 cup).

11. Using Herbs in dips (alike dill)

Dice the hell out of green herbs that look much like dill and use to flavor sour cream, crème fraiche, cream sauces, butters, mayonnaise and other cream, egg or yogurt based dips.

12. Using seeds

Fennel seeds are especially flavorful. They could be used to add flavor to beans, stews, roasts, tagine dishes and Indian style dishes, like vegetables or cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Usually you add seeds to hot oil until they start popping or turn lightly brown. Make sure not to burn seeds. Then you can add whatever else you might be cooking: onion, beans, vegetables, etc. This method infuses the oil. Whatever you choose to use seeds for need to cook for awhile, making seeds ideal for stewed or slow-roasted dishes.


Basque Fish Stew – Andy Way

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Let me start off by saying that recipes are boring. I mean, seriously, is the extent of your cooking creativity limited to opening someone’s cookbook and following step by step instructions that someone else thinks are good? You gotta improvise! Other people’s recipes should be like maps to you – they give you background, history, techniques and general direction, not soul or creativity. Ideally, after enough time spent cookin’ and having fun with food, you can just open your fridge and see immediately what you want to make, given what you have.

Similarly to music, the key to improvisation in cooking stands on understanding of basic theories, techniques, history and constant practice. One needs to learn to play a melody, and play it many times before improvising on the rest of the harmony. Just like you can substitute your chords in jazz or splash some chromatic notes in the middle of a solo, you can play around with substituting flavors or textures in food. As long as you know which ingredients you can use as substitutions. How do you find out? Two ways: read about it, or just wing it and than taste it to see if you got it right! Word of advice: don’t wing it onstage, or in your case, when you have guests over. They might never return.

Below is my improvisation on a Basque Fish Stew, or Marmitako (as it’s known in Basque County). Traditionally it is a very simple stew of Anaheim peppers, potatoes, onion and line-caught tuna, eaten on fishing boats in the Cantabrian Sea. There are many varieties of this dish, some tomato based, some adding garlic, some swapping tuna with salmon.

Basque Fish Stew

Basque Fish Stew

Basque Fish Stew (Andy way)

Method: Sauté, Simmering, Stewing.

Cookware: Dutch oven, Sauté pan.


4 Anaheim peppers diced

1 Large Bulb of Fennel * diced or thinly sliced

2 Bay leaves

1 Shredded Black Radish *

¼ head of Cabbage * diced

1 Fresh red chilly pepper (like Serrano) sliced in 2 diagonally

1 stalk of lemongrass * cut in 1 inch cubes

3 – 4 large potatoes (Yukon) small cubes

2 lb of fresh Tuna (like Ahi, or Yellowfin) large cubes

1 tsp tomato paste dissolved in ½ cup of water or stock

1 cup white wine

3 cups of vegetable stock (or quick shrimp stock (see tips & tricks), or clam juice)

6-8 threads of Spanish saffron

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp crushed chilly

1 spring of marjoram

3 tbsp of chopped parsley & Juice of ½ lemon.

  • * You can substitute Fennel, Raddish & Cabbage for 2 medium Onions (original recipe)
  • * You can substitute Lemongrass with Garlic.

Sauté fennel, radish, peppers, cabbage, chilly, bay leaves, lemongrass, saffron in olive oil until peppers are soft and change color. Pour in the wine. Add potatoes, stock, marjoram, paprika, and stew for 20 –25 minutes after bring it to simmer. Brown tuna in a sauté pan, cut in 2 inch cubes and add to the pot and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Garnish with lemon juice and parsley.

Tips & Tricks

  • Quick shrimp stock is (1/2 lb) shrimp tails, sautéed in oil, with basil stalks, chopped celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, ½ lemon in 3 cups of water and a splash of wine. Simmer for at least 25 –35 mins,
  • Browning: Make sure tuna is dry – too much moisture will not let you brown it right.
  • After sautéing the tuna, deglaze the sauté pan with white wine, scrape the blackened bits and pour into the pot. (this does add flavor)
  • Do not over cook fish, 10 minutes will cook it all the way through.

Lentil Soup

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Soup has to be one of my favorite things to make. I find the whole process very relaxing: chop stuff up, sauté mirepoux (carrots, onion, celery) and other ingredients, infuse with stock and wine, and finally gently simmer until well done. It’s really simple and always leaves with you tons of food – no wonder that the history of soup originates in poverty!

This one is really a meal in itself, as lentils make it a hearty fall soup that is great with salad or a light main course of seafood or chicken. Some crusty bread, oiled and dusted with parmesan cheese and heated at 425 degrees to give it a browned edge will be great with this soup. Coriander and cumin give this soup great flavor and jalapenos add just enough heat.

Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup

Method: Sauté, Simmer

Cookware: Dutch Oven, Soup Pot

Lentil Soup

3 Stalks Celery (finely diced)

1 Large Carrot (finely diced)

1 large Black Radish shredded

½ Fennel bulb thinly slice or diced (you can use 1 large diced onion instead)

2-3 canned plum tomatoes or ½ package of diced tomatoes

1 ½ cups of soaked lentils

2 Fresh Jalapenos cut in half lengthwise

2 Tsp Coriander seeds (ground with) 1 ½ tsp. Cumin Seeds

1tbsp Fresh Oregano

6-8 leaves Basil

½ tsp Thyme

2 Bay leaves

3 Potatoes

¼ head of cabbage

2 tsp. Tomato paste dissolved in

1 cup of white wine

1/3 cup of lemon juice

2-3 cups of Spinach Leaves chopped (Arugula, or wild rocket works great as well)

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

4 qt. Brown stock

Olive oil

Salt / Pepper to taste

Cover the bottom of a heavy, large-ass Dutch oven (enamel coated is my preference) or soup pot with thin layer of olive oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Toss in radish, celery, carrot, fennel, Jalapenos, and sauté until soft (8-10mins). Add cabbage, and sweat until soft and translucent. Add tomatoes and tomato paste with wine bring to simmer and add ground coriander / cumin seed mixture, oregano, basil, thyme, dump a cup of hot brown stock in and bring back to solid simmer. Add lentils, remaining stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Please, for crying out loud, be patient and don’t go smoking or watching TV at this time (do it after that) and make sure you don’t boil your soup. Once it simmers (10-15 minutes), turn the heat down to low and let it steep for 45 minutes. Add potatoes, spinach and parsley. Return to simmer and let it work its magic for another 20 minutes. Turn heat off. Add lemon juice, and adjust with salt and pepper.

Tips & Tricks

Making this a day in advance is a great idea. This soup obtains a thicker, richer taste after it “stands” for a while. Grind coriander and cumin seeds yourself, don’t go for ground stuff – whole other flavor. Use large green lentils. (not small red, not French green, not small black.)

This is how a Dutch oven differs from Stainless steel. Dutch ovens are ideal for slow cooking, releasing flavors perfectly and should, consequently be kept at low heat. If using a stainless steel pot, you might need to be on medium-low, medium. You can also cook your soup a little longer, as stainless will cook faster.


Brown Vegetable Stock

Sunday, December 7th, 2008
Stock is a soul of every great meal. In fact, stock is what separates every-day scrip-scraps from great flavorful food. In restaurants, professionals always use stocks for sauces, reductions, bases for soups and foundations of many dishes. Many home cooks, rely on bouillon cubes or canned versions of over salted paste or simply water, which all lack personality and never compare to your home made stock. Fact is – making stock is not that hard, and it will still make your house smell good. I intend to write about more involved veal and chicken stocks in the near future, but here are simple few steps to a vegetable stock that will enhance many of your meals. Brown stock usually means you roast vegetables prior to adding them to a stockpot. If you need to make a clear stock, don’t roast veggies, just sweat them in your stockpot with a little olive oil before adding water. Brown stalk is usually more flavorful, more full-bodied.

This specific stock I created to accommodate an allergy to onion (alum or Lily family, which would include garlic, chives, shallots, onion – the bulbs.) If you have no such allergy, adding onion to this stock is always a possibility. To substitute for a lack of onion, (which is often the foundation of many stocks) I use Fennel. It works quite nicely and enables me to play around with different flavors.

Brown Vegetable Stock

Brown Vegetable Stock

Cookware: Large Heavy Stockpot

Method: Simmering


2 carrots

2 stalks of celery

2 stalks of fennel

1 onion (if using)

1 package (or ½ lb of white mushrooms)

½ pound bag of vegetable trimmings (carrot peeling, celery, zucchini, fennel, cabbage, lettuce ends, basil stalks)

2-3 springs of fresh Thyme

2 bay leaves

¼ cup cheap white wine

Some peppercorns

Parsley stalks

In a large roasting pan add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and dump carrots, celery and fennel stocks and onion if you are going to use it. Other solid chunks of saved frozen goodies are welcomed to that pile as well. Roast on 350 degrees for about an hour, until veggies are lightly browned.

In a heavy stockpot heat few tablespoons of olive oil and toss the roasted veggies in. Meanwhile, deglaze the roasting pan with some white wine and scrape up all the browned bits stuck to the pan and add to stockpot. Add the rest of the contents of your frozen savings, bay leaves, parsley stalks and peppercorns. In fact dump everything in there other than mushrooms. Close the lid and let the vegetables sweat for a minute or 2. Add 4 -5 qts. of water and increase the heat. Make sure not to boil your stock, just bring it to a simmer and lower the heat to med-low. Sauté mushrooms until they start releasing liquid and add to your pot. Mushrooms add great taste to stock – my personal favorite trick. (I swear I can make great stock using just mushrooms, basil stalks, wine, lemon and shrimp tails.) Keep simmering for about 1 and 45 minutes, with lid cracked to reduce your stock. Cool. Strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth. Save and use in sauces, soups, risotto, stews, braises and rice dishes.

I usually use this specific stock for lentil or other vegetable soups, fennel, basil and sun dried tomato risotto, reductions for light sauces (like my soy-grapefruit reduction for Asian noodles, I will write this up soon.)

Tips & Tricks:

Save your vegetables — butts of carrots, onions, fennel, broccoli stalks, zucchini, cabbage, celery, basil stalks, parsley stalks, etc in a bag and keep in your freezer. There is no reason to throw those seemingly useless bits away – they have tons on flavor you can extract and use in making stocks.

I keep my stock frozen, and tend to make a fair amount of it. This way any time I want to whip up a sauce or a soup I always have it ready.

Experiment with vegetables, but stay away from things like eggplant, artichokes, potatoes!!! (Potatoes will cloud your stock) Do not salt your stock too much; you can always salt whatever the stock goes into.


Fran’s Thanksgiving Lasagna

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Thanksgiving is a special holiday for my wife and me. First, we get to go and hang out with her whole family in New York; second we really enjoy visiting New York City, and finally there is Fran’s lasagna night! (which we do every year in addition to our traditional Thanksgiving dinner) New York of course is a land of great bagels and pizza and excellent Italian food, but it’s a real treat when your Italian food comes from the source – an Italian family. Italian food over all is very simple to make, yet it’s very hard to find good Italian food in this country. (Hell, it’s even hard to find in New York) The reason for that is that most people try to add more to Italian food that it needs to have. The beauty of an Italian meal, as with many things in life, is in its’ simplicity.

So here is a real-deal, New York style slice of Italian pre-Thanksgiving celebration on Long Island, which became a family tradition:

Frans Meat Lasagna

Fran's Meat Lasagna


Sautéing, Stewing, Baking

Fran Cooking

Fran Cooking


Sauté pan, Large Saucepan or Dutch Oven

(Fran says:)

4 28 oz cans of Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes

or San Marzano whole tomatoes put through a food-mill (this is really important!)

3 pounds lean ground beef

1 lb sweet Italian sausage links chopped with casings removed

5 cloves of garlic chopped

1 medium onion finely chopped

Olive oil

Salt, pepper, basil to taste

Brown meat in a separate pan in a small amount of olive oil, and set aside.

Cover bottom of a large heavy bottom saucepan or Dutch oven with olive oil. When hot add onion and sauté until soft, add garlic until light golden color then add crushed food-milled tomatoes, salt and pepper and basil. (Both dry or fresh basil work, but Fran prefers dry) Bring tomato sauce to simmer then add browned meat. Cover and simmer for approximately 2 hours stirring occasionally. Adjust with salt and pepper to taste.



Cooked lasagna pasta

Tomato sauce (above)

Ricotta mix: Ricotta (3lb) + 1egg + ½ cup Parmesan Cheese – well mixed

parmesan, mozzarella cheese

In a Lasagna pan add a little of Fran’s sauce on the bottom, then add a layer of cooked Lasagna pasta, ricotta mix, mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Add a layer of sauce and repeat the process. Top layer should have sauce on it. Cook for a few hours and add cheese on the top at the last 15 minutes.

Tips & Tricks:

Use only high quality canned Italian plum tomatoes (like San Marzano)

Simmer on low, never boil your sauce

Use heavy cookware – it will prevent your food from burning or hot spots.

Keep it simple.