Sunday, January 18, 2009

Curious Case of Fennel

I have two recipes bookmarked to make in the upcoming weeks that involve fennel. I have two problems with this:

1. I don't like licorice, and fennel tastes like licorice
2. I have never cooked with fresh fennel before. I don't even know how to cut it up and dice it.

But, in order to broaden my horizons, I decided to go for it. My first recipe is the one below. I love, LOVE to pack soup for lunches and this soup from my new Cooking Light cookbook sounded unusual and tasty. I immediately saw the listing for fennel and thought "Oh great, what am I going to substitute for THAT?!" I will try it. I may not like it, but I will try it. I figure that Cooking Light must have put the fennel in the recipe for a reason right? It must add some needed flavor.

Off to the grocery store I go. What does fennel even look like anyways? I find whole fennel complete with its pretty frondy tops. Besides the licorice vegetable in this recipe, it called for Swiss Chard, which I could not find at my grocery store, as well as butternut or acorn squash, zucchini and carrots. I suppose all the root vegetables is what makes this Winter Minestrone.

I get to the checkstand with my fennel, squash, spinach (as a substitute for the chard) and all my other groceries. Guess how much the fennel cost? $5.00. For one vegetable. Holy cow, add this fact to the third reason I don't like fennel: It's expensive!

I made this minestrone today and I must say, it was delicious! Not only is it a different spin on a common soup, but it made my entire house smell wonderful. I can even admit that fennel tastes better cooked. I let my husband have a taste, and even he liked it which is amazing for a squash-hater. Look how pretty the veggies look when they are all cut up and cooking in the pan:

The more color in a recipe, the better nutritionally it is. With the beans for protein, the huge variety of veggies, spices and a little bit of pasta, you don't need much else with this soup except maybe a piece of fruit to round out the food groups.

My only beef about this recipe is that the serving amount said 6 servings. When I sectioned it up into containers to take for lunches, it only made 5. That was after I added an extra 1/2 cup of water. Now, that could be my fault for overcooking or cooking it too high. So, if you want to have extra soup, I would suggest adding another 1 cup of water or 1 cup of chicken broth to the ingredient list.

I can't wait for my lunch tomorrow and the rest of this week!

Winter Minestrone
from: Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2009

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups cubed peeled acorn or butternut squash (about 1 medium)
3/4 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup diced fennel
1 cup water
1 can (14 oz) fat-free, less sodium chicken broth
5 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste
1/4 cup uncooked ditalini pasta
2 1/2 cups chopped Swiss chard
1/2 cup rinsed and drained canned Great Northern beans
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black papper
2 tablespoons grated Asiago cheese

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 3 ingredients to pan; saute 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add squash and next 3 ingredients; saute 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup water, broth and tomato paste; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in pasta; cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chard; cook 3 minutes. Add beans; cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Stir in pepper. Serve with cheese.