Fennel is a plump green bulb with a mild anise flavor that is a member of the parsley family. There are three types of fennel: bitter and sweet which are used for herbs, and Florence fennel that provides a vegetable in the form of a bulb. Florence fennel is also known as finocchio, which is the general Italian word for fennel. Finocchio was developed in Italy during the 17th century and is often used to distinguish fennel grown for the bulb versus varieties grown for seed. Small bulbs are best for salads since they are tender, while larger bulbs are best suited for braising and baking. Keep fennel refrigerated in a plastic bag, but try to use it sooner than later, as it tends to dry out quickly and the outer layers will brown.
Fennel makes an interesting substitute for celery, and it takes well to braising, sautéing, grilling, and eating raw in salads. The feathery greens can be used for garnish or for seasoning egg salad, potato salad, or seafood dishes. Since the stalks are stringy, they are best used in soup stocks or throw them on the BBQ for aromatic smoke. Cut off the stalks just where they emerge from the bulb. Fennel has a core, which is visible once the bulb is cut in half. If the bulb is small, it isn’t necessary to remove the core but if the bulb is large, the core will need to be removed with a paring knife. Fennel pairs well with olive oil, butter, thyme, orange, lemon, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, garlic, Parmesan and Gruyere cheese. If thinly sliced, the bulb makes a nice addition to an antipasti platter or goes well with pork.
Yellow wax beans are a yellow version of the familiar green bean. If you won’t be eating them right away, store in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. Stringing is seldom necessary now that many varieties are stringless, but the stem end is often removed since it can be tough.
Sichuan Style Beans (Serves 4)
The cooking of this dish goes quickly, so makes sure you have all your ingredients ready before turning on the stove. If you wish, ½ cup shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced, can be added to the dish.
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound green or yellow wax beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 scallions sliced thin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
In a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, white pepper, chili flakes, mustard, and water until sugar dissolves; set aside.
Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender and skins are shriveled and blackened in spots, 5 to 8 minutes (reduce heat to medium-high if beans darken too quickly). Transfer beans to large plate.
Reduce heat to medium, add a teaspoon of oil and add minced shiitakes to now-empty skillet. Cook 2-3 minutes, until mushrooms are soft. Add garlic and ginger, cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 15-20 seconds. Stir sauce to recombine and return beans to pan with sauce. Toss and cook until sauce is thickened, 5-10 seconds. Remove pan from heat and stir in scallions and sesame oil. Serve immediately.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (serves 6-12)
Spring rolls offer a great way to feature fresh summer veggies and make a light summer meal or great appetizers. For carnivores, a variety of cooked meats can be added to the roll. Poached shrimp makes a nice addition along with mango and cucumber slices. Well seasoned shredded beef, chicken or pork can also be added for a hearty roll. Be creative with a mix of flavors and textures. Whatever the filling, just make sure it is not too moist or the wrapper will get soggy. Recipe adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
2 ounces cellophane noodles
1 carrot, grated
1 cup sprouts-mung bean, sunflower or radish
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
4 scallions, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped mint
¼ cup thinly sliced basil leaves
½ teaspoon sugar
3 garlic cloves
2 serrano chilies, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
12 large or 24 small Vietnamese rice papers
Soak the noodles in hot water to cover until soft and pliable, about 30 minutes. Drain and snip noodles into 2-inch lengths.
Combine grated carrot, noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, scallions, herbs, and sugar. Smash the garlic in a mortar or food processor with a pinch of salt and chilies to make a paste, then stir in the lime juice. Toss with the vegetables.
Fill a bowl with warm water and spread a clean towel on the counter. Working with one paper at a time, slip it into the water and soak until soft and pliable, about 10 seconds, then remove and set on the towel. Mound some of the vegetable mixture at one end of the rice paper, roll it over once, fold over the sides, and roll to the end, making a neat little package. When all are done, slice the large rolls in half. Serve with dipping sauce.
Peanut Dipping Sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons roasted peanuts, chopped
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Whisk together all ingredients and let stand 10 minutes before using. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.