Monday, July 9, 2012

CSA Challenge: Fennel!

Fennel is one of those vegetables that I like to refer to as a "CSA Special."  You're never (or rarely) going to buy it of your own accord, even though you really enjoy eating it when it shows up on your plate at a restaurant.  So, when it shows up in your CSA, your thought process goes something like this:

"Sweet!  We got fennel this week!"


"Aw, crap - I have no idea what to do with fennel..."

The first time you see it, you probably take the easy way out: You slice it real thin with a really sharp knife, and use it to garnish salads.  Delicious!  But let's be honest here - any chump can wield a knife.  There's so much more potential in that weird-looking, fluffy-topped bulb... isn't there?

Of course there is!  Fennel is a classic match with seafood, and since Liz had a pasta craving this week, I figured we could adapt a recipe for Linguini with Clams and Fennel to be gluten-free!  So here we go:

Mise en Place:


1 fennel bulb - trimmed and sliced really thin
2 tbsp chopped fennel fronds
6 cloves of garlic - chopped to a fine dice
3 lb of clams - Liz picked up some locally farmed littlenecks
3/4 cup white wine - I used a verdejo, but any wine you'd drink with clams will do
1 lb of linguini or spaghetti - Tinkyada gluten-free pasta for us
1 tsp of fennel seeds - grind them if you can, but whole will work too
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan cheese

Prep Notes:

Fennel can be a bit tricky to break down if you're not used to it.  If you need some tips, check out this link.  You don't really need to use the whole fennel bulb.  I used about 2/3 of the bulb, and saved the rest for salads (like I said earlier - delicious!).

Give the clams a good rinse, and a scrub - There's often some sand and grit stuck to the outside of the shells.

Step 1: Partially Cook the Pasta

In a pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until it is about 2/3 the way done.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT take your pasta all the way to al dente.

Be conservative here - you're going to finish the pasta with the clams so if you go too far here, your pasta will wind up overdone.

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water.

Step 2: Aromatics

Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a deep skillet, or a pot (something big enough to hold all of the clams + pasta) over medium heat

Add the sliced fennel bulb and the garlic

Saute until they are soft, and on the verge of starting to brown

Then add the wine and clams

Cover and turn the heat up to high

Step 3: Clams

Wait five minutes (maybe as long as seven if your stove is crappy)

After 5-7 minutes, uncover and start checking the clams for doneness

Remove any clams that have opened (that means they're done) and set aside

Any clams that have not opened, are not for eating - throw those away

You should be left with a pot of simmering wine, clam liquor, fennel and garlic

mmm... Clams...

 Step 4: Finish the Pasta

Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to the pot

Then add the pasta

Toss the pasta in the pot until it's al dente, and the sauce has thickened a bit (should only take 3-5 minutes)

Then add the fennel fronds, fennel seeds, and salt and pepper to taste

Add back the clams

Finish with parmesan cheese to taste

Step 5: Eat

This is one of those dishes that tastes like it took way more work than it actually did.  It also seems like it could be really versatile: I figure that there are probably a lot of easy variations that one could make from here as well (add some tomatoes, or mushrooms perhaps?).

From the time I got home from work, it took me 90 minutes to make this meal, eat it, and clean up the kitchen, so this is a great weeknight dinner if you're busy.  It also makes enough for 4-6 servings, so you'll have enough leftovers for at least one more night if you're making it for two.

I also may need to start buying fennel on my own a little more often...

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