Sunday, January 17, 2010

Food of the Gods and Cheese aka Fennel Au Gratin delivered with Campo-Formio and Portastatic

Fennel has provided the world with knowledge and fire (see Prometheus), the marathon (see Pheidippides), the ability to aid in the recovery from poisonous snake bites and scorpion stings (see Chinese) and warding off evil spirits (see Midsummer's Night-Spain). None of these were on my mind as I began my first cooking experience with fennel yesterday. The only thing I could think was black licorice. The pungent odor of fennel evokes black licorice in my mind, thus the hesitancy to use this plant in cooking in the past. Thankfully the taste is anything but black (or licorice for that matter).

Fennel Au Gratin
(printable version)

For the Fennel:
-olive oil
-4 heads of fennel cut into thin wedges (fronds kept)
-2 garlic cloves
-1-28 oz can of diced tomatoes (partially drained)

For the topping
-3/4 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
-3 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
-handful of fennel fronds
-13 black olives, pitted

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add fennel wedges, cover, and cook over medium heat for fifteen minutes.

2. Add the garlic to the fennel and continue cooking for another twenty minutes or until the fennel is soft (may need less time based on how thick you cut the fennel). Add partially drained tomatoes and simmer for ten more minutes.

3. Meanwhile combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan, fennel fronds and black olives in a food processor. Pulse until the topping has the desired consistency (I like mine completely crumbed).

4. Put fennel into a shallow gratin dish or baking pan. Top with crumbs. Drizzle more olive oil over the top and bake for twenty minutes.

*When I made my dish I did not remove any liquid from the tomatoes and it came out a little watery. That is why I would advise draining at least some of the liquid from the tomatoes.

While I made this dish I listened to "El Joke" by Puerto Rico's Campo-Formio. Reviewers have compared them to Sonic Youth, Captain Beefheart, Julian Casablancas and The Raveonettes. Campo-Formio just spent the last week frolicking through through New York and Philly. Hopefully these guys can get back in the near future for a more extensive visit.

The band's first EP is available for free here.

"Foam Hands" by Portastatic was also playing during the making of this meal. Mac McCaughan, founder of Merge Records and lead singer of Portastatic, got his band together to celebrate the labels 20th anniversary by putting out a new album entitled Make it Sound in Tune. The album features all covers of Merge artists. This song is a cover of Destroyer.

Portastic-Foam Hands