evil twin

on a whim the other week, i brought a nice cache of fresh fennel back from the superfresh (goddamn, i miss the farmer's market). once breaking two lovely bulbs down, i realized it was just too much fennel for one dish. well, it would've been the perfect amount for tomato soup with two fennels, but we were in the midst of a spell of warm weather, and i was feeling kinda souped out.

so in the interest of diversification, i tried two very different approaches to preparing this licorice scented beaut. the first was a crunchy, tangy salad that plays the clean, citrusy flavors of grapefruit off the clean, sharp flavors of the fennel. a handful of thinly sliced red onion added a pungency which popped against a backdrop of tender lettuce leaves. i then dressed this pink and purple melange with a light shower of orange juice, mild honey, red wine vinegar and xvo. this salad brought a fierce brightness to the plate, which is just what a winter salad should do. it would be a great compliment to a rich entree of stew, pasta, or braised protein.

i reserved the other half of the fennel slivers for another night, which, in typical spring fashion, was as cold and rainy as the previous night had been warm and breezy. so, i decided to take a totally opposite direction, with an easy, fuss free recipe from the stellar The Essential NY Times Cookbook by amanda hesser. the fennel is steamed for just under ten minutes, and then sauced with a chile-infused olive oil, and a touch of salt and pepper. i lined the plate with a bed of arugula in a half assed attempt to squeeze some more greens into my diet.

i really love vegetables that are equally good cooked and raw, and fennel really wins in both cases. it's so hard to imagine when eating it in its sweet and crunchy raw state that it can also be transformed into a silky version of itself. these two wildly different treatments of fennel reminds me of that always enthralling narrative theme - the evil twin. like, the raw fennel salad is cheery, sweet and straightforward, while the spicy, steamed fennel is mysterious, rich, almost musky. ok, i'll stop personifying my food and just get on with recipe already.

Steamed Fennel with Spicy Olive Oil
adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
~takes about 15 minutes~

1-2 fresh fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced thinly (i mean, really you can make this with as much or little fennel as you'd like - just adjust the amount of olive oil)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, depending on how much spiciness you enjoy

- place the fennel in a steaming basket over a pot of gently boiling water. steam until tender, 5-7 minutes.

- in the meantime, put the olive oil in a small pot over a very, very low flame. after it is gently warmed, turn the heat off and swirl in the red pepper flakes. set this aside. if you are in the habit of making your own olive oil infusions, this would be a wonderful opportunity to skip this step entirely and use your ready-to-go flavored oil.

- when the fennel is done, plate it as artfully or messily as you care to. gently drizzle the infused olive oil over it, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.

while you eat it, listen to this song and think about all the awesomely dangerous, selfish and lascivious things you would do if you had an evil twin.


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