Sunday, August 8, 2010

Making Food From Thinnings

The single most common question I get from the SACG gardeners and neighbors does not involve gardening, weeding, bugs or flowers. It is this: Are you a vegetarian? No, I am not. While I do not eat a lot of meat, I enjoy a thick barely browned steak (so rare that it moos when I cut into it), chicken and fish. I've been on a sardine kick recently, so feel free to share any recipes.

Yesterday, while chatting with Miss Jeannie, she saw a fennel bulb in my harvest tub and asked me what it was. On Wednesday, a few of the neighborhood boys asked me about the bulbs, too, and their pretty foliage. I let them taste the leaves. For the uninitiated, fennel taste like black licorice or anise. (It was funny listening to elementary school boys announce that they like anise). So, I've decided to blog about it.

Anyway, for the past three years I have tried to grow fennel and this is the first year I've had any success. The first year – up in Dublin – I got lots of plants, but no seeds or bulbs. Last year, I got plants and seeds, but no bulbs. This year, I learned that you must plant fennel very, very early (like in April). Then, you must thin the plants so that they are at least 2-3 inches apart. Anyone who gardens with me knows how much I hate to thin. It seriously pains me – like I'm killing my children or something. It's rare that you can do something with the thinned plants you've sacrificed for the good of the order. However, fennel is different. I look for reasons to thin my fennel so that I can make fennel chicken which is just one of my many favorite Greek-inspired recipes. You can make this from an adult fennel bulb too (as I did this afternoon), but I made this a few times earlier in the season just from the fennel I had thinned from my plot. Enjoy.

Single Girl's portion:

1 large chicken breast (sliced into one-inch chunks) (Today, I used 2)

¼ fennel bulb (chopped) (or use 2-3 thinned bulbs) (Today, I used a whole bulb)

2 chopped cloves of garlic (or more if you like it)

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped red onion (Today, I used a whole, small one)

1 tsp chopped oregano

5 chopped green olives (Today, I used 10)

2 tbsp lemon juice

8 oz sliced mushrooms

  1. Throw all of this into a skillet and sauté it until the chicken is browned. Really. (I usually start with the oil, garlic and onion, add fennel and mushrooms, then add chicken, then the herbs, and then squirt a lot of lemon juice before throwing in the olives, but there's really no magic to it).
  2. Serve over couscous (like I did today), or a thin pasta, like orzo (like I did in June). Both cook up quick. Yum. Yum.

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