Wow. Been a real keener with this blog stuff lately. Been cooking a lot too, motivated in large part by this non-pink camera and my desire to learn how to take non-blurry pictures. Also, would be okay with someone coming over to take pictures for me. So I invited Chris Gerber, Nick’s friend with the good camera, over to eat. I like Chris Gerber.
A lot of kids aren’t eating meat these days. Weird, right? Some of them came over for dinner tonight. I’ve found that the challenge with vegetarian cooking is that people don’t really “get” vegetables. They get meat though. Meat is the main course, and that’s that. So vegetables are kind of an afterthought – just dump some hollandaise sauce on them, and they’ll be good to go. Much as I love a good litre of hollandaise, one cannot coat everything they eat in egg yolk butter sauce. Bad idea. Pretty sure that’d kill you.
The challenge tonight was to approach vegetables in a way that allowed vegetables to behave like a main course without everyone feeling like the vegetables were either imitating meat or that the whole dish was suffering for the lack of meat. For someone that keeps a jar of bacon fat in the fridge and dreams of the many uses for schmaltz, this is no small thing. But not impossible. No. Not impossible.
The solution? A little pea and asparagus risotto with bulgur and a rustic onion and fennel tart, adapted (and improved upon) from this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine. Also, a side salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and basil, all drizzled with delicious olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I got the basil from the plant on my balcony. It was real good.
It’s quite late and I don’t actually have a recipe for the risotto … it’s all in my head and I don’t feel like trying to remember it now. I am going to try and remember it later, and tell it to you again – I may have to re-do it and take notes throughout the process so I can report back. If you know risotto, it’s made the usual way, only with vegetable stock and peas and asparagus thrown in. I added the bulgur for nuttiness, and because I have a freaking ton of it, because I was on a total bulgur kick a few months back. So you get the onion-fennel tart thing, and some lovely pictures, a few of which were provided by the talented and artistic Chris Gerber. The crappy blurry ones are from me.
Rustic Onion and Fennel Tart
(Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, frozen
- 5 tbsp. ice water
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 1 large sweet onion
- 1 bulb fennel
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 2 tbsp. sour cream of crème fraîche
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. milk
To make the dough, measure the flour and salt into a bowl. Using a cheese grater, grate the frozen butter into the bowl, and toss together lightly. Using a fork or a finger, pour the water gradually into the mix. You want the dough to form a ball, and to be relatively firm. You may not need all of the water. When a dough-ball is formed, wrap it in a sheet of plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge.
Start cutting the onion – thin slices. Do the same thing with the fennel bulb. Thin. Get your butter melting in a pan. Once melted, dump your onions and fennel into the pan, with four of the sprigs of thyme, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Start the pan on high, cooking until softened, eight to ten minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until onions are golden and caramelized. The recipe says 20 minutes, but it lies. It’ll take half and hour. Once the onion-fennel combo is complete, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sour cream/crème fraîche, and season with whatever salt and pepper you feel it needs.
Preheat the oven to 375°F, and butter a cookie sheet.
Grab your dough ball out of the fridge. Lightly flour your rolling surface. Make sure it’s clean. Dough doesn’t hide the crusties you let harden on your countertop. Pat the dough ball down, and roll the thing out. Once it’s thin and rolled, fold it back into a ball-like shape, and start again. You want the flour and the butter to be all inter-mingled and stuff so that when you bake it, the pastry gets all flaky and luscious, not hard like shingles. When it’s all rolled out, move it over to your buttered cookie sheet.
Pour your cooled onion-fennel mixture onto your pastry. You want there to be about an inch and a half border around the mixture, because you’ll be folding the edges of the tart in, making it look all rustic and homemade, which is totally in right now. It looks like you tried hard that way, even though this was super easy and monkeys could do it.
Lay the remaining two sprigs of thyme over top your crust, and brush with your egg-milk mixture.
Your pre-baked tart should look like this:
Bake for 40 minutes. I thought I had a really good picture of the tart, but I get really distracted really easily, so I guess I forgot to take it. Your finished tart will look like the thing at the top right of this photo:The other stuff there is the risotto and the salad, which were also good. At least, I thought they were good. The thing about these food blogs is that it’s kind of my word against anyone else’s. But, to be fair, no one gagged or was all, “Ew, WTF? Why are you feeding me poison?” So, awesome show. Great job. IT ALL TASTED GOOD.
There was also dessert. I made mango upside-down cake, but it got a little botched when I tried to take it out of the pan. Solution? Cover that shit in caramel sauce. Caramel hides flaws. And helps the broken parts of cake get stuck back together.
Oh! I used my last vanilla bean in the whipped cream. Well, not my last, but the last in that open container. Glad that story line is now all wrapped up.
I’ve included some of Chris Gerber’s actual attractive images below. He didn’t give me all the photos he took, which leads me to believe that the others were way too good to share, so instead he’s taken them home to paint them for me in watercolours, so that I can get all Cook’s Illustrated on this blog.
Conclusion? Vegetables are tasty. People should eat more of them. Unfortunately, they do not possess the sedative-qualities of large hunks of meat, so it’s 1:04 am and I am still wide-awake. Thankfully, there was wine left over. Good night.