Artichokes, fennel, and sweet onions braised in wine

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I traveled to Sicily in 2011 around Easter. It was a big family trip with my boyfriend’s brother’s family and the parents. We stayed in Agrigento in the south of the island, in a big house over looking the sea. We visited the ancient greek temples, ate at some great local restaurants, dipped my feet in the sea (only once. It was too cold for me, but the boys didn’t seem to mind. Brrr!), soaked up the sunshine a little too much and ended up having lobster legs.

It was definitely an eye-opening culinary experience. I took my own knife as usual, thinking I would be cooking a couple of times only. But after seeing all the incredible produce at the supermarket, fruit&veg stores and roadside vendors, I cooked many more meals than I intended. It was a quite a challenge to cook for 9 people with limited kitchen space and utensils – thank god I took my knife and Microplane-, but really, it was like being in heaven for me to be able to get my hands on the fresh vegetables and fruits, delicious cheeses and cured meats. The artichokes were in abundance at the time. Whenever I looked, there were artichokes being sold 20 cents each. I even found some at a bakery (?!)

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Although you would never find an artichoke for 20 cents unless you are in Italy, the Italian vendor at the farmer’s market in Leipzig has fresh and inexpensive artichokes, sold at 80 cents-1 euro each. I saw them yesterday and couldn’t help myself to buy a few. This dish I created really reminded me of Sicily. The artichoke hearts, fennel wedges, and sweet Calabrian sweet red onions (cipolla rosa) are braised gently in dry vermouth, anchovy, lemon slices, coriander seeds, and Kalamata olives. The melange of these vegetables and wine create a lovely savoury broth that you can mop up with some bread, or even served with couscous if you like. The leftover broth can be used to poach eggs too.

If you don’t know how to trim artichokes, click on the link I provided in the recipe. It’s not hard at all and once you get the hang of it, they can be trimmed in minutes. To choose artichokes, make sure the leaves (or really, they are petals) are tightly closed and the head should be firm. Another trick is to rub the artichoke between your hands. If they make a squeaky sound, then you know the artichoke has been harvested not long ago.

Enjoy! xo-A.

Artichokes, fennel, and sweet onions braised in wine

Note: Vegans, you know the drill; leave out the anchovies and just add a couple more olives. They will give enough depth to the dish. 

Serves 2 generously as a main dish

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 anchovy fillet, finely chopped

1/2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed

3 medium sized globe artichokes, trimmed down to hearts. Halved. (Click here if you don’t know how)

250g sweet red onions (cipolla rosa) or regular red onions, cut into bite-sized wedges

1 fennel (about 200-250g) cut into 1.5cm wedges (save the fonds for garnish)

180ml dry vermouth or white wine

180ml light vegetable stock

1-2 tsp salt

8 Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped

6 peppercorns, lightly crushed

2 thin slices lemon

4 mint leaves, finely chopped

2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Fruity olive oil, to serve

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and fry for about 5 minutes until they start to become soft. Add the anchovies and coriander seeds and sautee for 1 minute.

2. Add the artichokes, fennel, and onions. Sautee for about 2 minutes.

3. Add the wine, water or stock, lemon slices, peppercorns, olives and salt. Bring to the boil and turn the heat down to medium-low. With the lid slightly ajar, braise gently for about 25-30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the herbs and fennel fonds, if using. Check for seasoning.

4. Serve the vegetables and a small ladle of braising liquid with a drizzle of fruity olive oil. This is best eaten with some crusty bread on the side.

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Saffron and garlic beans with wine-braised leeks

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It’s finally raining today. The weather has been mostly gorgeous for the past 2 weeks, but even I wished for some rain after reading that the farmers were suffering from a drought. I invited a friend for lunch today and made this dish for the starter. The bright golden, garlicky beans really bring a contrast to the grey and wet weather. The baby leeks I found at the farmer’s market yesterday were braised in wine and butter until the leeks were left with thick and silky sauce, then they were broiled under the grill for a bit because I like the taste of slightly browned leeks. You can leave the step out if you like but I recommend it.

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Ps. My watercress and lentil salad made it to the Guardian Cook section. 🙂 Yay!

Saffron and garlic beans with braised baby leeks

Recipe Note: Go easy on the salt, as Parmasan rind gives enough saltiness to the beans. For vegans, leave out the cheese rind and substitute with 2 tsp of tomato paste instead for the umami flavour. Also, replace butter with olive oil when braising leeks.

Serves 3-4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

For the beans

150g dried white cannellini beans

1/2 medium onion, very finely chopped

1/2 celery, very finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, very finely chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 sprig rosemary (about 10 cm), leaves finely chopped

1/2 tsp loosely packed tsp saffron strands

20g rind of Parmagiano reggiano (leave out if you are vegan)

1/4 tsp salt

700ml water

2 tsp lemon juice

A few grinds of pepper

For the leeks,

8 baby leeks or very thin leeks, white and light green part only

60ml dry vermouth or white wine

100ml water

20g butter

4 small sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

3/4 tsp salt

Pepper

To serve,

20g hazelnuts, toasted, skin peeled, and chopped *

Fruity olive oil

1. Soak the beans in plenty of water for at least 8 hours. Rinse and drain.

2. Add the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat. Add the finely chopped onion, celery, and garlic with a pinch of salt. Sautee for 15 minutes until very soft Do not be tempted to increase the heat.

3. Add the saffron and rosemary. Sautee for 3 minutes.

4. Add the beans, water, and the rind of parmagiano reggiano. Bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and  simmer, with the lid slightly ajar, for 45-90mins or until tender but not falling apart. The cooking time depends on the freshness of your beans, so check after 45 mins.

5. When the beans are almost done, take the lid off and increase the heat to medium-high. Evaporate most of the liquid until there is a thick broth left in the pan.

6. Take the Parmasan rind out. Add the lemon juice to heighten the flavour. Add more salt if needed.

7. For the leeks, Add all the ingredient in a medium sized frying pan. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 10 mins. At this point, preheat the grill in the oven.

8. Take the lid off and boil off almost all the liquid. Transfer the frying pan under the grill and grill for 10 mins, or until the leeks start to turn golden. Do not burn the leeks.

9. To serve, place some beans on a plate and leeks on top. Sprinkle the hazelnuts and drizzle with olive oil.

*To toast the hazelnuts; place the nuts in a frying pan over medium heat. Toast for 10 mins or so, occasionally shaking the pan. Immediately remove from heat and place them in a clean dishtowel. Enclose them and rub them vigorously against each other until the skins come off.

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Watercress and Lentil Salad with Citrus Dressing

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Hi guys! The sun is shining, there are no clouds to be seen, and it’s 18 degrees today! I’m making this a quick post so I can go out and soak up some sun and walk around in my ballerinas.

This substantial salad I just made for lunch can be served either on its own or as a starter. Watercress is rich in in vitamin C, K, and other nutrients, and its peppery taste makes a great food to awaken our sleepy bodies from winter and revive the taste buds. The citrus dressing gives zesty and sweet contrast to watercress and lentils. Go! Make this salad! xo-A.

Watercress and Lentil Salad with Citrus Dressing

*Note: If you live in an area where watercress is hard to come by, then substitute with rocket or other peppery leaves. For Leipzigers, I know it’s virtually impossible to get watercress here, but I finally found some at Macis Bioladen in the refrigerated section. Pricey, yes, but definitely worth it!

Slightly adapted from Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry

Serves 2 hungry people as a main dish, or 4 as a starter

For the lentils,

1 cup beluga lentils, rinsed

2 1/2 cups water

3/4 tsp salt

For the dressing,

Juice of 1 pink grapefruit (about 120ml)

Juice of 1/2 orange (about 60ml)

Zest of 1/2 orange

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp maple syrup or honey

1/2 clove garlic, germ removed

80ml fruity olive oil

1 tsp salt

60g watercress

4-5 mint leaves, shredded

Slices of 1 avocado

1. First, cook the lentils. In a medium pan, combine the lentils, water, and salt. Bring to boil and simmer for 25-30 mins until the lentils are cooked but not mushy. It’s better for them to have a slight bite than to be falling apart, so check their doneness after 20 mins. When they are done, drain them well.

2. For the dressing, combine grapefruit juice, orange juice, and zest in a small saucepan. Bring to boil and turn the heat down to medium-high. Simmer for 5-10 mins, or until the juices are reduced by about half. Remove from the heat.

3. Combine the reduced juices, lemon juice, garlic, maple syrup, salt, and olive oil in an immersion blender. Blend for a minute or two until the dressing is well emulsified. Taste and check for balance of saltiness, sourness, and sweetness. One of these tastes should not dominate the other.

4. Toss the warm lentils with 3/4 of the dressing. Leave to cool on the counter for 30 mins- 1 hour. (this process will make the lentils soak up the dressing) When the lentils are no longer warm, toss gently with watercress and mint. Taste and see if the salad needs more dressing. Serve with slices of avocado.
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