Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fennel Frenzy, Mint Ice Cream

I’ve been on an arugula and fennel bender over the last month. I’ve long loved fennel and arugula salad (particularly with roast chicken), and I like fennel in all sorts of things, and arugula as well. We baked potatoes with fennel last week. I like to slice it and have it as a salad with mojama, lemon juice and olive oil, in a salad with oranges and capers, sautéed with fish… I could go on, but clearly, it’s a popular ingredient with me, cooked or raw. A bulb or two of fennel is almost always floating around. I am similarly enthusiastic about arugula. It, too, is spectacular with mojama. I like it in pasta sauce with tuna, I get a serious yen for it in the fall with pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts. And on, and on. But even for me, this last month has been a little excessive.

Maybe I don’t get into salad ruts as much as I go on ingredient benders.

This past week has been very salad-y. There was… arugula fennel salad on Monday (with roast chicken, so it soaked up some of the sauce from the roast). Tuesday, I was still feeling the fennel, so I had it with parmesan and mushrooms, from a recipe in Giuliano Hazan’s Every Night Italian. I totally bought the book to see how he stacks up to his mom. And although I think the title is laaaame, it’s a competent little cookbook. He isn’t trying to write an enormous, encyclopedic cookbook. He acknowledges that many of us use supermarkets, make on-the-spot ingredient substitutions, and don’t always have loads of time to make dinner. But that despite our disinclination to spend much time cooking dinner, we would still like a good dinner. It’s nice, sometimes, not to have someone drone on about what a snap it is to make home-made broth and freeze it. I get it. It’s better. I'm not arguing that. But. My veryvery small freezer is for ice cream. And, er, pizza rolls. This digression has clearly gone too far.

Giuliano Hazan’s acknowledgement of the constraints workaday life has on making dinner is something I also like, in theory, about Rachel Ray. In practice, I find her to be a little more than I can take. Stoup? EVOO? Really? And all the exclamation points get a little wearying. There are many kinds of punctuation, Rachel. Look at the keyboard! See? Three kinds – right there. There are lots of ways to finish sentences.

Marcella’s son calmly and correctly uses multiple kinds of punctuation, and the fennel mushroom parmesan salad was lovely. As is the case for many salads, it’s more an idea of how to throw ingredients together than a proper recipe, but it’s I like getting a look at the ways other people combine ingredients. It’s actually supposed to include (I’m pretty sure you can guess this) arugula, but the recipe notes that the arugula can be successfully dropped, so I decided to have a little mercy on my husband and lay off the arugula. If not the fennel.

Last night I made a tuna tartare from Patricia Wells’s Vegetable Harvest and I paired it (not very successfully) with tabbouleh. I was in the mood for raw tuna, I was in the mood for tabbouleh and I was really, really in the mood for things that did not require the stove to be turned on. Both were good. But… they didn’t pair well. Too much chopped up stuff on one plate, I think. It happens.

And tonight, I’m staying on the wagon – there is neither arugula nor fennel in dinner. Which is a dandelion salad with bacon, egg and then I fried those preserved artichokes I made in the bacon fat. Mmmm. My husband’s working late – although there will be salad for him when he gets home, I suspect the artichokes will have somehow, mysteriously, vanished. So sad.

It was another hot day, so the kids and I made more ice cream. I won my point (by cheating and using veto power and also cruelly exploiting their inability to agree on French vs, Philadelphia style) and we made mint. Initial tastes were promising, despite the fact that I forgot it was on the stove and boiled it for about twenty minutes, and then let my daughter stir the custard on the stove. Predictably (okay, not for me, but I'm not exactly renowned for my foresight), she burned herself and I let the custard get scrambled-eggy while I got her a piece of ice to rub on her little burn. Well, she's okay, and the custard cooked for too long without being stirred. That's why you strain the stuff. Right?
Despite looking a bit more like coffee ice cream (the boiling? the custard overcooking? the way my mint cooks? who knows), it is pretty dreamy mint ice cream. It is not, thankfully, mint and scrambled egg ice cream. I was a little worried about that, although, when you have a slightly scorched child, you don't find yourself thinking "hm, it'll be a real shame if the ice cream custard is ruined." That part comes once you know the kid is fine. Maybe I shouldn't admit that.

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