CSA 2009, Week Eleven: Guest Writer!

Since Keith and I are in Europe and therefore unable to use two weeks of our CSA share, we asked some friends to take over the cooking, eating and writing that comes with our box.  This week, Melissa discusses fennel.  Enjoy!
— Nayiri

I was so excited to be the lucky recipient of one of Keith and Nayiri’s CSA boxes.  I spent the days leading up to the pick-up dreaming about the delicious vegetable goodies it would contain.  I knew tomatoes would be unlikely, but wondered what would be there instead, and would any mini food challenges come in the box, too?

Part of what I’ve really liked about participating in a farm share in the past is the element of surprise and of trying to figure out how to use things I might not normally buy. I have a farm share to thank, for example, for developing my appreciation of hearty greens. I didn’t used to regularly purchase collards or kale or even eat my beet greens prior to getting them in a farm share.  Now, however, I get excited by the possibilities whenever I have them, instead of feeling like “how am I going to use this?!?!”  I could hardly wait to find out what surprises would come this time.

When I finally got to unpack the CSA box, I found it filled with the following:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumber
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Japanese eggplant
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Peppers — 1 green, 1 purple, and 1 small red (hot?)
  • Scallions

Melissa's CSAEverything seemed pretty straightforward, except one thing: the bulb of fennel.  Of course, I’ve had fennel seeds (and liked them) in sausages, and over the last few years I’ve even developed a taste for black licorice and anise-flavored things (like pastis or absinthe — which I just found out gets its flavor from both anise and fennel), but my experience with the vegetable-like bulb itself was limited and my memories not terribly fond.  But there it was, in the box.

Never having owned a fennel bulb before, I had no idea what do with it, and maybe even doubted why I would want to. Turning to the cookbook shelf (Who am I kidding? It’s a whole bookcase!), I selected a few I thought might provide some encouragement and curled up on the couch, determined to make use of that bulb.

Most of the things I came across left me uninspired, but when I saw the recipe for this salad, I knew I’d found my answer.  I was going to a friend’s house for small, poolside movie-night and knew (hoped?) this salad would be just the thing I wanted to bring. I mean, it did have two of the most crucial elements for the group: cheese and nuts.  How could it be bad?  Surely Annie Somerville (chef of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco) wouldn’t lead me astray, right?

Fortunately, she didn’t.  The salad was delicious, even with the fennel (maybe because of the fennel?!). Earthy and nutty, buttery and tangy, and just overall fresh tasting, it was enjoyed by everyone at the party — including me.  Score another one for the persuasive powers of the CSA box!
— Melissa

Green Salad with Beets, Fennel, Walnuts + Ricotta Salata, from Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville
Makes four to six portions

Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 medium beets, about ½ pound, roasted, peeled, and cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
2 heads of butter lettuce, about 10 cups inner leaves and trimmed outer leaves
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, small sprigs and leaves
½ fennel bulb, core and stalks removed and sliced thin crosswise
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted and coarsely chopped
1½  to 2 ounces ricotta salata cheese, 2 to 3 tablespoons

  1. Make the vinaigrette.
  2. Place the cut beets in a small bowl, toss with 1 ½ tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  3. Wash and dry the lettuce and parsley. Combine the greens, fennel, walnuts, and half the cheese in a large bowl; gently toss with the vinaigrette.
  4. Separate the salad onto individual plates, tucking the beets between the leaves, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and the remaining cheese.

Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette
Makes about ½ cup

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil

Whisk everything but the oils together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in the oils, whisking until emulsified.

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