Friday, January 23, 2015

Another New Favorite Side Dish

It's strange that I'm cooking more than ever these days, but inventing less.

Prior to my surgery I was often out two or three nights a week.  I'd spend most of my weekend 70 miles away from home then come home too tired to cook.  Kevin and I would eat out at least twice a week and three nights a week we would eat leftovers for dinner, whether they were from a restaurant or leftovers from the meals I prepared the night before.

Now I'm cooking much more.  I have the time so I do it more often.  I'm home almost every night and I don't spend my entire weekend at the barn like I used to (it's too cold to hang out there if I can't ride).

I'm learning the tough lesson that meal planning is harder when you have more meals to plan.  Much of what I make are basics or else my old reliable classic TERP recipes.  My focus these days is to make the classics the best they can be.  I put a lot more time and care into food than I did in the past.

My biggest issue with dinner isn't the main course.  It's coming up with side dishes.  I wish I liked vegetables more (or that I liked more vegetables).  I wish the vegetables I do like were all of the same ones Sir Pickypants likes.  I feel like I make the same vegetables over and over again and they're always steamed and buttered or else roasted.

This past week we had steamed green beans, and chopped salad, and...zzzzzzz

I'm sorry.  Did I just nod off?  I do that when I consider some of my most recent meals.

So this week I decided I had to get off the vegetable hamster wheel again and find a new side dish.  I love fennel and have been using it in salads pretty often.  I thought I would try something new with it.

This roasted tomato and fennel compote was perfect.  I'm sure there are a hundred dishes almost exactly like it, but I'm sharing mine anyway.  I have seen a few recipes like this that use olives, but since we don't like them, I just used the main ingredients with some pearl onions and flavored with roasted garlic, basil, and fennel fronds.

It was perfect on a grilled, grass-fed steak.

Also good on fish - or so the hubs would tell me.

Roasted Fennel Tomato Compote

  • 4 Tbl olive oil, divided
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes
  • 1 fennel bulb cut into 1/2" slices, fronds reserved
  • 6-8 cippollini onions, peeled
  • 6 clove of garlic, whole, unpeeled
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves, cut in chiffonade
  • 1 Tbl lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Toss the tomatoes, onions, fennel slices, and garlic in 2 Tbl olive oil.  Spread out on a cookie sheet.  Roast about 30-40 minutes*, or until soft.

Remove the peels from the garlic cloves.  Mash them in a bowl with remaining olive oil.  Whisk in basil, reserved fronds, and salt.

Toss the tomatoes, fennel, and onions with the dressing and serve.

*I confess I wasn't paying much attention when I made this.  I threw it in the oven and winged it and served dinner when it all seemed soft enough.  Start with 30 minutes and see if it's soft enough for you.  If not, keep going.   This is a very forgiving dish.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My New Favorite Side Dish

My last post was about Christmas, and now Christmas is officially over.  All 12 days are gone.

Do you celebrate Epiphany/Little Christmas?  I don't, but I'm beginning to wish I did.  I love Christmas.  I love the festive feel.  I think that feeling tends to fade for most people as soon as the New Year's Eve hangover wears off.  Even though many homes and public areas keep their decorations up until January 6th, by January 1st it tends to feel stale and anticlimactic to me.  I want to keep that festive feeling going.  I like the idea of milking Christmas for all it's worth.  If you stretch out the Christmas celebration, you keep having something to look forward to. There is even a bonus because you are now allowed to put off that New Year's resolution to lose weight for a few days. 

I know some people do still celebrate Epiphany.  The bakeries in my neighborhood all sell Three Kings Cakes.  It seems to be the most important to Italians (or perhaps to all Catholics).  For Italians the mythical witch, La Befana, makes her appearance on Epiphany Eve.  This is when she gives out presents to the children of the world in atonement for not bringing a gift to the Christ Child (depending on which version of the legend you believe).  

This year I decided to do something festive for Little Christmas.  I would make a nice meal, serve wine, and try to think of something Italian inspired.

My inspiration came from my 2011 trip to Italy where on the farm we often had beans mixed with rosemary and olive oil or a big bowl of bietole, doused in olive oil, as contorni.  I also remembered my grandmother occasionally cooking "beans and greens".  It felt properly Italian to do a dish with both beans and dark greens, and Italian seemed appropriate for the last day of Christmas.

I made my dish with pancetta, onions, garlic, white chard, cannellini beans, rosemary, and pine nuts.  I think of it as a simple dish, but it was definitely a bit heavier than the foods I ate in Italy.

This is America.  I'm allowed to overload my dishes with extra ingredients!

I served this as a side dish alongside a roast chicken (which I felt would be a festive meal for a minor holiday).  I think it would do well by itself as a meal though.  The leftovers would make a perfect lunch.  There is a wonderful combination of flavors here.  You have sweetness from the onions and pine nuts, saltiness from the pancetta, mild bitterness from the chard (one thing I like about chard is that it's not overly bitter as some greens are), and a savory texture from the beans.  

This was so good, I hope to serve it again - and not just on holidays.  I think this side dish will make many appearances on my table in the future. 

White Beans and Chard

  • 2 oz pancetta, cut into small pieces
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch white card, roughly chopped
  • Optional splash of wine or chicken stock
  • 1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbl pine nuts, toasted
 Cook the pancetta over low heat in a large frying pan until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is crispy.  Remove the pancetta from the pan and set aside (try not to eat it all before you serve the dish).

Add the olive oil to the pan and then add the onions.  Cook until the onions are soft and transparent.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.

Add the chard to the pan and cook until it wilts and the stems become tender (they don't have to be totally soft though).  If you would like to add a little wine or chicken stock at this point, go right ahead.  I found the dish didn't need any extra liquid, but I did consider adding some and I think that might add to the dish a bit.

When greens are wilted stir in the beans and rosemary.  Cook over low heat until the beans are warmed through.

Toss with the pine nuts and reserve pancetta bits and serve.