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Super Crunchy Fennel, Apple, and Celery Salad

6 Mar

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I am neck-deep in a rather large project right now (nothing exciting or surprising, unfortunately), but, as I sit at my desk and worry about work, my thoughts keep wandering back to this excellent salad I made last week. The salad had pretty much every element that I love a salad to have: great texture, lots of crunch, a subtle yet tasty dressing, and a nice dash of protein thrown in. Thinking about this salad keeps me from slowly losing my mind about my current work project, which is interesting. Who gets calmed down by a salad?

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Perhaps I should be talking instead about how this salad, while soothing to me, was also rather exciting. Not that calling a salad exciting is any less questionable than calling a salad soothing, but hear me out on this one. Every week or so, we’ve been experiencing a day of relative dryness, when the rain stops, the sun comes out, and everyone who has been trapped inside for months on end by the grayness and the rain comes outside and soaks up the brightness. Some of us, making the correlation between warmer weather and a change in available produce, rush out to find whatever is available to make a fresh, new meal. I love polenta and soup, but when the weather gets warmer, I want light, crisp, fresh meals, not warm, hearty meals that will warm me from the inside. The weather may not stay warmish for long, but I like to make the tiny bit of warmth as meaningful as possible.

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So, I had the idea for a great, crisp salad, loaded with fresh fennel and crisp apples. I had celery on hand, so I threw some in. The tops of the fennel were chopped up at the last minute and sprinkled about, and the result was nothing short of phenomenal. With a super light dressing of just lemon juice and olive oil, followed by a handful of raw pepitas, the salad came to life, earning a spot on my list of top five most favorite salads. Super crisp, wonderfully flavorful, and a reminder of warm days to come, it’s definitely going to make a few repeat appearances around here.

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Last Year: Quinoa, Arugula, and Roasted Beet Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing and Beet Greens and Chèvre Quiche–look at me, using every part of the beet.

Super Crunchy Fennel, Apple, and Celery Salad

One of the great things about this salad is the fact that the vegetables and fruit are sliced incredibly thin—we’re talking whip-out-the-mandoline-slicer thin—allowing each bite to cram in as much of each salad element as possible. As mentioned, I used a mandolin to slice everything as thin as possible, but you could also just use a super sharp knife and slice away.

2 cups fresh fennel, sliced super thin (about 1 large bulb), core removed, leaves set aside

2 cups super thin apple slices (about 2 small apples)

1 cup super thin celery slices (sliced across, not lengthwise, obviously)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil (using extra virgin olive oil will result in a much more punchy dressing, and using a lighter olive oil will give you a milder background of dressing)

big pinch of sea salt

big pinch of freshly ground black pepper

handful of fresh fennel leaves, roughly chopped

¼ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

In a large bowl, combine fennel, apple, and celery.

In a smaller bowl, add lemon juice, then slowly whisk in olive oil until the mixture is thick and emulsified (this shouldn’t take more than about 30 seconds). Whisk in salt and pepper, taste for more seasoning, and adjust as you see fit.

Pour dressing over fennel, apple, and celery. Toss to combine. Add chopped fennel leaves and pepitas, toss just a couple of times, then serve.

Serves 4 as a side salad, 2 as a main dish salad.

Roasted Parsnip and Potato Hash

6 Feb

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An open letter to root vegetables:

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Dear Root Vegetables,

Oh, root vegetables, how I love thee. I love the way you sweeten ever-so-slightly when roasted in the oven, with your edges so crisp, but your middles so soft and fluffy. I love the way your flavors can be so different, and yet you always adapt so well to similar preparations. Not all vegetables can accomplish this. I mean, I love broccoli and I love cauliflower, but have you ever tried to swap the two interchangeably within recipes? Let me tell you, a lot can get lost in that translation, so I advise you to steer clear of that experiment. It’s not like you, root vegetables. You’re all so friendly to one another, so perfectly matched.

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I mean, I just made this great vegetable hash out of three different types of root vegetables, and the whole time I was making it I was wondering how many other root vegetables I could throw into the mix and still achieve the same comforting, savory bite. The answer to that query is, of course, that I could throw in all the root vegetables and always end up with a fantastic combination. Here I have parsnips, sweet potatoes, and red potatoes, but I could easily throw in a diced carrot, a turnip, or even a golden beet and effortlessly end up with a lovely, delicious platter of food. Maybe next time I will give a new cast of root vegetables a try in this recipe. I am sure it will be delicious. I mean, I am sure you will be delicious. Oh, dear. I am sorry. It just occurred to me that, uh, I am going to have to eat you as soon as you read this. Well. This just got rather uncomfortable. My apologies.

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All the best,

Elizabeth

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Last Year: Gingerbread Waffles and Caramel Cream Sandwich Cookies

Roasted Parsnip and Potato Hash Recipe

1 large parsnip, peeled if the skin is tough

1 medium orange-fleshed sweet potato, peeled if the skin is tough

1 large red potato

3 large cloves of garlic

1 large shallot

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

handful of chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange a rack in the second-lowest position.

Dice the parsnip and potatoes into very small ¼-inch chunks. Very coarsely chop the garlic into rough quarters. Slice the shallot in half lengthwise, then into medium ribs. Combine parsnip, potatoes, garlic, and shallot on a large, heavy baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss everything together to combine.

Roast on second-lowest oven rack for 20 minutes, until the bottoms of the root vegetables are nicely browned. Toss the vegetables around a bit, turning them over as much as possible, then continue to roast them for another 5 minutes, until the edges are crisp and golden.

Sprinkle with chopped fresh Italian parsley, then serve with softly fried or poached eggs.

Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on how generous you make the servings.

Escarole, Leek, and White Bean Panzanella

5 Oct

This is the type of food that could be considered a kid-repellent. It boasts a combination of punchy bitter greens, smooth leeks, and the kick of red pepper flakes. However, it also contains white beans, crisp, sautéed bread, and parmesan cheese, three things for which, in my experience, children tend to go completely nuts. As you might sense, these discrepancies combine to make one very interesting conundrum.

It’s not really a conundrum, of course. The answer to the question of, How do I make a kid like this? is simple: I don’t feed this to my kid. The bigger question, I think, would be this: Does any kid like this? Does anyone, anywhere, ever somehow get a kid to eat a dish like this? A dish so delicious in its complexity of flavor, so pleasing in its collection of textures, that I could not stop myself from eating almost the entire thing over the span of a single afternoon?

Some friends of mine once had a great Ethiopian lunch with some Ethiopian friends of theirs. Their friends’ children were in attendance, and they were happy to sit down and tuck into plate after plate of spicy lentils, spice-filled stews, and, of course, injera, the fantastic Ethiopian flatbread that is used to scoop up bites of intensely flavorful food. My friends, watching the kids devour the food with aplomb, could not help but wonder how many American kids could be led to eat such food if only they were presented it at the right time, meaning, when they were babies and just discovering the joys of solid food

Sadly, I have no answer to their query. I have tried for years to get my kid to eat all types of foods, to no avail. Indian food? No (which breaks my half-Indian heart with great sorrow). Spicy food of any sort? No. Braised greens? No. Visible strands of onions, whether caramelized or crisp? No and no. I could go on, but I’ll resist. I know that my kid has a slightly more adventurous palate than many other kids (slight—not monumental), so I’ll take whatever vegetable or Thai food consumption I can get out of him. Until he learns to appreciate more foods, I’ll just have to keep doing what I have been doing for the past several years now. This means making foods like this wonderful panzanella for myself, and finding a slight bit of pleasure in knowing that, hey, if I’m the only person who will eat this, at least that means I get to enjoy every last bite of it on my own. It’s a paper-thin silver lining, but I’ll take it.

Last Year: Heirloom Tomato Cobbler with Cheddar and Scallion Biscuit Topping

Escarole, Leek, and White Bean Panzanella Recipe

3 cups torn or cubed crusty bread

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium leek, dark green end removed and light green/white end sliced in half lengthwise and then chopped into thin half-moons

4 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 very large head escarole, coarsely chopped

1 cup cooked white beans

salt and pepper to taste

optional: 2 to 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

In a large skillet set over medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When oil is just beginning to shimmer, add bread cubes in a single layer and allow to crisp on one side (this should take anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes). Turn bread cubes over, then allow to crisp some more, shaking the skillet ever now and again to keep the bread moving around in the oil just a tad. Remove bread cubes and set aside.

Wipe any bread crumbs from the skillet, then heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add chopped leeks, garlic, and red pepper flakes and sauté, stirring frequently, until the leeks begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chopped escarole, stir and toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and allow to cook for 5 minutes, until the escarole is wilted and has released some of its juices. Remove the lid from the pan, and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until the juices have evaporated a bit, about 3 minutes. Add beans to skillet, stir to combine, and allow beans to cook with greens for about a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Turn the heat off under the skillet. Add the toasted bread cubes and toss to combine thoroughly. Taste for seasoning.

Divide the panzanella amongst 2 or 4 plates, depending on how hearty to want your servings to be. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese (if using) over the servings, then sprinkle over chopped basil.

Serves 2 as a meal, or 4 as a starter.

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