72 degrees yesterday. Wow! It felt so foreign. After all, it’s been 6 months since we’ve experienced this kind of warmth. But it sure felt gooood! Thursday it was sunny and in the 50’s and we got a hankering to grill, given this was finally the end of an excruciatingly long string of winter-like weather in this stranger-than-strange spring. Grilling was good. We had a sense of satisfaction—we had won—beaten Old Man Winter. He had been holding spring hostage for so long, after letting it lose for a day or two here and there, then reeling it in seemingly on a permanent basis, much to our chagrin.
And with the even warmer weather last night, it would have been a perfect Friday for seeking al fresco dining—I’m sure many a restaurant spent the last couple days getting their patios ready for those of us chomping at the bit for noshing in the great outdoors. But it just wasn’t going to work for us to go out. Pete has a fast-approaching deadline looming for some continuing education credits, which meant going out for dinner and drinks wouldn’t be an appropriate precursor to an evening of online class time. I was happy to cook, but wasn’t sure of a menu until I stumbled upon the perfect recipe on a favorites list from one of the food blogs I follow. This seems to serendipitously occur occasionally, when I find a recipe for something totally new and I just happen to have everything I need on hand. Such was the case with this Braised Fennel with Saffron over Red Quinoa. And of course, I had to read up on the cookbook the recipe was adapted from, and ended up ordering it to add to my collection.
Since it was going to be our main course, I thought about adding some browned tofu, but I still had a couple links of Field Roast Grain Meat Company apple and sage sausage, which seemed a perfect pairing with fennel, so I browned it up to add before serving. It really was the right compliment to an already flavorful and unique dish.
I don’t cook with saffron often, but I’ve used it enough to know that it’s easy to overdo, so I was cautious when the recipe said to use a “pinch.” It’s best to err on the side of too little—too much can’t be undone.
Braised Fennel Wedges with Saffron and Red Quinoa
Adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison
2 large fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
Pinch of saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons capers
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 links Field Roast Grain Company apple and sage vegan sausage, chopped and browned (optional)
Cooked red quinoa (or farro, brown rice, cous cous), for serving
Trim off the stalks and greens from the fennel bulbs and chop the greens finely and set them aside, reserving the stalks for another use. Halve each bulb lengthwise, cut out most of the core, and cut the halves into wedges. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and fennel seeds, crumble in the saffron and thyme, and then cook until the onions soften and the steam releases the color from the saffron, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel wedges and cook them until golden, turning them and the onions occasionally (make sure to get some color, a little char on the fennel, before adding the stock). Once they are well colored, add the garlic, stir in the tomato paste, capers and then add the stock and kosher salt. Scrape the pan to release the juices, then cover and simmer until the fennel is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Serve over a bed of cooked quinoa and chopped fennel greens for garnish. Enjoy!