On September 12, I was very happy to meet Lidia Bastianich, the Italian-American chef at a book signing event at the Putnam Wine Shop on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. As I own many of her cookbooks, and am a great admirer, I packed up four of my books to have her sign. She was so nice: I welcomed her to Saratoga, and told her that she was an inspiration to me, and that I have started a cooking blog. She looked up at me and smiled and said, "Come on, take a picture, and put it in your blog!" So I did, and here it is!
Earlier that same day, our good friends Kathy and Alan gifted us with some wonderful vegetables from their local farmers' market: two pattypan or scallop squash; two perfectly sized and bright green zucchini; a huge heirloom tomato, and two lovely fennel bulbs with their bright green fronds. That week, I turned each into a meal I could be proud of:
1. PATTYPAN AND ZUCCHINI SQUASH STIR FRY
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pattypan squash, cubed
1 medium zucchini, cubed to match
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
4 ounce jar roasted red pepper strips, drained
salt and pepper to taste
3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, sliced thin
Grated Romano cheese
Fresh parsley, chopped
Pattypan squash is an unusual looking vegetable, a squat looking thing with a scallop, almost like a fringe, all around. It is a very light green with a pure, tender white flesh. I heated the olive oil in a very large heated pan to which I added first the onions and then the garlic: this prevents the garlic from burning. When the onions were slightly caramelized I added the squash and quickly stir fried them until tender. I added the red pepper strips, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Take care not to overcook as it will become soupy. You might want to stir fry the squash in stages. I transferred the vegetables to a serving dish and sprinkled them with grated cheese, salt, ground pepper and fresh parsley. It looked and tasted wonderful.
2. CHICKEN CACCIATORE (Hunter's chicken)
For this dish, I used the very large heirloom tomato to complement the other ingredients of this very versatile dish. It added a sweet freshness to the dish I had never encountered. In a future blog, I am going to give you this delicious version of chicken cacciatore: it is best in chilly weather, as it is a stew, although it doesn't take forever like most stews. I must say that it comes out different every time, because I use whatever hearty vegetables I have on hand.
3. BRAISED FENNEL(also called Anise)
2 bulbs fennel, sliced thinly with fronds removed (and reserved for future use.)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup good quality low salt chicken broth water
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste.
This is an unusual dish that I have been making for years. Fennel is a surprising cooked vegetable. It is much different than when it is raw: it has a crisp, licorice type flavor, and is used as a digestive after meals. In a large frying pan, on a medium high flame, melt the butter and olive oil until frothy. Add the fennel slices to the butter and oil, add salt and pepper, and cook until caramelized. The sugars in the fennel will allow it to brown nicely. Do not stir fry: attempt to keep the slices intact, flipping them when done on one side, and then browning them on the other side, about 4 minutes total, taking care not to burn. Add the broth and water, cover and cook until tender. You will not believe the tender sweetness of this dish, and the butter adds a nice touch.
The fronds were so lovely, I packed them away in a ziplock bag because I didn't have the heart to throw them away. I really did not know what to do with them! Wait until you find out the use I found for them next time, in a very delicious way!