Wednesday 17 April 2013

Effortless Fennel, Sausage & Tomato Tray-Bake

No one in my family likes fennel.  Or at least they didn't until last weekend, when I set out to change their minds by making this tray-bake brimming with lovely fresh fennel, snappy pork chipolatas, shallots and dear little carrots.

Fennel, Sausage & Tomato Tray Bake
Roasting vegetables concentrates their flavours and brings out 
the sweetness in shallots, carrots and fennel.
My husband, who loathes the taste of aniseed, demolished his plateful - 'But the fennel is so sweet and delicious!', he cried - and so did two of the teens.  So there you go: you can bend your family's tastes to your will if you persist.

I added the pork sausages because they taste wonderful with fennel, but mostly because everyone in my household adores them. If I sprinkled them cunningly around the dish, I reasoned, they'd make the medicine go down, and they did.

This is an absolute breeze  to make, and (as is the case with all wonderful, abundant tray bakes) you can add anything else you might fancy - black olives and feta at the end, for example. I've used a simple dressing (I like to think of veggie tray-bakes as cooked salads) of lemon juice and olive oil, with just a little garlic and white wine, but feel to experiment with other ingredients, plus herbs of your choice. I'm very fond of rosemary with fennel, but this would also be good with plenty of fresh thyme.

If you can't find shallots - which are still like hens' teeth in Cape Town; these ones are from Woolies - use onions, quartered lengthways, or whole pearl onions.

Fennel, Sausage & Tomato Tray Bake
Top-quality veggies make all the difference here.
Fennel, Sausage & Tomato Tray Bake
4 large fennel bulbs, trimmed
500 g cherry tomatoes, halved
350 g shallots, or 4 onions, quartered lengthways
a large sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped
250 g baby carrots
300 g pork chipolatas (If you can't find tiny ones, buy the finger-length ones and twist each one into two)
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper

For the dressing: 
4 Tbsp (60 ml) olive oil
3 Tbsp (45 ml) white wine
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice, plus extra for sprinkling
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp (5 ml) brown sugar

Heat the oven to 190 ºC.  Cut the stalks off the fennel and slice the bulbs lengthways into quarters (or sixths, if they are very large). Use a paring knife to chip away any tough pieces of white core.

Put all the ingredients for the bake in a large, deep roasting tray.  Season generously with salt and pepper, and scatter the rosemary leaves over the top.   Whisk together the dressing ingredients, pour this over the contents of the tray. Mix well so every piece is coated - I use my hands for this.

Cover the dish tightly with tin foil and bake at 190 ºC for 30 minutes.  Now remove the foil, turn the oven up to 200 ºC (fan on, if your oven has one) for 25-30 minutes, or until all the moisture has evaporated, the fennel is tender and sticky, and the sausages are a rich brown.

Sprinkle a few drops of lemon juice over the tray and take it hot to the table.

Serves 4 as a generous main dish; 6 as a side. 

More of my fennel recipes:

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Monday 1 April 2013

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil

Substantial meal-in-one salads are so quick and versatile. I can fling them them together in the late afternoon, then serve them for dinner a few hours later (on their own for family members watching their waistlines, and with warm bread or crunchy potato wedges for those of a scrawnier build). You'll have to forego the bread and potatoes if you're on a low-carb regime, of course, but I don't think you'll miss them: this salad is quite filling, packed as it is with fibre-rich baby beans.

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil
This salad is good with a dab or two of Tabasco sauce.
I also love how fresh and abundant these veggie salads look when they're heaped in glistening piles on large platters, and the fact that you can use all sorts of store-cupboard ingredients to add texture and contrast: toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, sultanas, dried apricots, olives, croutons, and so on.

I make this sort of salad often in winter using, variously, butternut, carrots, couscous, chickpeas, rice and lentils combined with spicy, garlicky dressings, left-over roast chicken, feta and chopped fresh herbs. (At the end of this post you'll find links to some of these recipes.)

That's not to say that a meal-in-one salad should be regarded as a dustbin into which to turf ingredients that are past their best.

For a salad of utter simplicity, such as this one, only the best ingredients will do, and my strategy is to combine one or two luxurious foodstuffs with inexpensive, beautiful veggies at the peak of their ripeness.

Here, I've used gorgeous prosciutto made by Richard Bosman’s Quality Cured Meats, luscious peppered cream cheese from Fairview, and a selection of interesting cherry tomatoes in yellow, red and near-black, from Woolies.

I wouldn't make this with elderly, stringy or lumpy green beans, because there are only so many of them you can eat half-cooked before they set your teeth on edge.

If you're making this ahead of time, blanch and refresh the beans no longer than 45 minutes before you serve the salad, or their lovely green will begin to dull to a muddy algae colour. You can, however, cut up the tomatoes, douse them with basil oil and leave them to steep up to four hours ahead.

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil
A few shining ingredients are all you need
 to make a beautiful salad.
Here's my cunning short-cut for topping and tailing a whole lot of beans in double-quick time: make sure to buy beans neatly aligned in their packet (not the ones jumbled up in a roomy bag).  Shake the bag, stalk-side down, so all the ends are flush against the packet seam. Now slice off all the stalks in one go, cutting straight through the plastic wrapping with a very sharp knife.  Do the same thing on the other side to trim off the 'tails' (although I usually leave these on because I like how they look).

If you'd like a more garlicky dressing, add as many cloves as you fancy to the basil oil. I prefer just a flicker of garlic in this salad.

This recipe makes more basil oil than you'll need to dress the salad, but you can save the rest to use in salad dressings for the next few days.

The oil may partly solidify in the fridge, but it will turn liquid if you leave it out of the fridge for an hour or two.

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil

2 punnets (about 1 kg ) mixed cherry tomatoes
2 packets (about 750 g, or enough for 6 people) baby green beans, topped and tailed
12 slices of excellent prosciutto
1 x 100 g roll of peppered cream cheese (you can use peppered feta instead)
juice of a small lemon
salt and milled black pepper

For the basil oil: 
a large bunch of basil
1 cup (250 ml) olive oil
a small clove of garlic, peeled and sliced

First make the basil oil. Pick the basil leaves off their stalks. Fill a very large bowl (you'll use this for the beans later) with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, drop in the leaves and blanch for exactly 10 seconds. Fish them out with a strainer and plunge them straight into the iced water: this will help to set their colour. Leave them for two minutes, then squeeze them into a ball and pat them as dry as possible with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Place them in the jug attachment of a stick blender,  or a similar liquidising gadget. Add the olive oil and sliced garlic clove and whizz until the leaves are very finely chopped, but not puréed to a sludge. Pour the oil into a bowl and set aside for an hour or two in a warm place.  After this, you can strain the oil through fine cheesecloth to produce a clear green oil, but I never bother with this.

Cut up the tomatoes - some crossways, some lengthways, for variety - and put them into a bowl. Drizzle over just enough basil oil to coat them generously.  Add a good squeeze of lemon juice, plus salt and pepper to taste, and toss well.  At this point you can set them aside, covered and at room temperature, for a few hours.

Add more ice cubes to the bowl if the chilled water is no longer very cold.  Reheat the water on the stove and add a few pinches of salt. Throw in the beans and cook them until just tender-crisp. This will take between two and three minutes, depending on the size of the beans; I suggest you set a timer for 2 minutes, and then cook them for a further minute if they're still too crunchy.  Plunge them into the iced water, as described above, pat them dry on kitchen paper and add them to the bowl of tomatoes. Toss everything together and have a taste - you might want to add more lemon juice, basil oil, salt and pepper.

Pile the beans and tomatoes onto a large platter and tuck the slices of proscuitto into the salad, as shown in the picture. Pinch off pieces of cream cheese and scatter them over the salad.  Drizzle over some more basil oil, and take the salad straight to the table.

Serves 6. 

More salads like this: 

Moroccan-Spiced Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Mint & Almonds

Roast Aubergine, Gammon & Mung Bean Salad, to please a crowd

Feeding a crowd: Roast Butternut and Baby Corn Salad

Herby Rice Salad with Feta, Walnuts and Dried Pomegranate Seeds

Salad of Green Beans with Lemon, Garlic, Olive Oil, Toasted Hazelnuts and Peppered Cream Cheese

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli

Spring Salad of Edamame Beans, Fennel, Avocado and Pancetta

Crunchy Quinoa Salad with Beetroot and Feta

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