Friday, January 22, 2010

Braised Vegetables

I tend to make the same vegetables over and over. Who doesn't, I guess. So I opened my Best Recipe and chose Braised Leeks and its variations, endive and fennel. Above, we have the first I chose to execute: the endive (pronounced ahn-DEEV, naturally). I respect the endive. It must be hard growing up in complete darkness and then being transported to an open air market or a grocery store. I did have my doubts as I selected the pale little guys. I liked them in my Winter Salad (from the Morgan dinner, yes, you remember!), so I thought I would probably like them carmelized, then braised in butter, wine, and chicken broth. I didn't have the sauce technique down yet, this being my first attempt with the recipe, so it was a bit runny, but good. Endive is bitter, but the steps and ingredients really mellow that out, and it went well as a side dish to Lamb Ragu.

A bit about bitterness here. I should disclose that I am a supertaster. This is not a secret identity that comes with a cape; it's a real thing. Supertasters have more taste buds per square tongue then the average taster. Of course, this does not mean that I have any more taste, per se, but I suppose the potential is there. What this means on a daily tasting basis is that what one experiences as slightly bitter, like endive or broccoli, I think is so bitter as to make me wonder how anyone could possibly enjoy said bitter item. For example, I forgot the vinegar with our collards the other night and I almost spit my bite across the room.

Next up were the leeks as a side dish to the Poulet. I did the sauce quite well and got nice color during the carmelization process. These were better than the endive and got two stars to the endive's one. A bite that combined chicken and leek with sauce - divine.

Insert diatribe re: leeks. Why are they so expensive? It's not like they are grown in complete darkness through a labor-intensive process! I feel quite upset by the fact that you buy a huge leek with all this green that you are gong to cut off anyway. Yeah, yeah, you can use it for stock. I have never used it for stock, so I'm just saying that if I can buy broccoli crowns (when the stem is the best part!) why not just buy the part of the leek that I am actually gong to use. I am seriously considering bringing my scissors next time I buy leeks.

They are good, though, aren't they?

I had my doubts about this dish, too. I cannot stand raw fennel. I have had roasted fennel before and thought it was good and fun, but still somewhat objectionable. But this! Braised fennel is to die for, people! This also went with the poulet and made a lovely combination to boot. I carmelized both sides for extra flavor ... oh, I highly recommend this dish. I suppose I could also complain about all those fronds I have to cut off the bulb, but I won't.

Recipe: Braised Leeks, Endive, or Fennel
Ingredients: 3 T unsalted butter, 1/2 tsp. sugar (1tsp. for the endive), 1/4 tsp. salt, 4 large (1in. diameter) leeks OR 4 heads endive OR 2 fennel bulbs, 1/4 cup dry white wine, 1/4 cup chicken broth, 1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme, 1T minced fresh parsley (optional), 1 tsp. lemon juice (1/2 tsp. for the endive)

Prep for veggie: For the leeks, you want only the white and pale green part. Be careful to only trim the very end of the root end because you want the layers to hold together during cooking. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise. For the endive, trim the very end and split in half, lengthwise. For the fennel, trim the bulb, removing the fronds and stalks. Halve them and cut each half into four wedges. (Don't core the bulb because you want it to hold together while cooking.)

1. Melt 2T butter in a 12-in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the sugar and salt evenly over the bottom of the pan. Add the veggie, cut side down, in a single layer. Cook, shaking the skillet occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. (For the fennel, you can flip the wedges to brown on both sides, and increase the browning time to 8-10 minutes.)
2. Add the wine, broth, thyme. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until very tender, about 10 minutes for the leeks, 12 for the endive and 15-18 for the fennel. Check with a paring knife.
3. Gently transfer the veggie to a warmed plate, leaving the liquid behind. Return the liquid to a simmer for 1-2 minutes until it is reduced to a syrupy consistency. Off the heat, whisk in the remaining T of butter, the lemon juice, and the parsley, if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over the vegetable.

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