Blanching

Fennel Bulb: Transitional Vegetable From Summer To Winter

If the first day of fall happens to be cold and stormy, then thoughts immediately turn to comforting soups and stews. For mild autumn days, we can savor summer a little longer with the perfect transitional fall vegetable – the fennel bulb. The season for fennel starts in late September and continues right through to spring. The crisp pale green and white color of fennel bulb is reminiscent of summer, but its aniseed flavor adds warmth for the cooler days ahead.

The supermarkets stock Florence fennel, with its characteristically large bulb that is crowned by few feathery fronds and finger-like stalks. The dried seeds from its yellow flowers are used in herbal remedies for digestion and in cooking, but the aromatic bulb is used as a vegetable. The prominent licorice (or liquorice-like) flavor could overwhelm a dish, and so when added raw in a salad, pair with equally bold tastes of chicory greens such as radicchio or frisée. Roasting or blanching the fennel bulb mellows its anise-like flavor. Fennel bulb can be eaten raw in a salad, blanched, or added to stews.

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Choosing A Fennel Bulb

  • The bulb should feel heavy. It should not have marks or bruises.
  • The feathery fronds, which look like dill or carrot leaves, should be fresh and bright green.
  • The cut-off stalk ends (looks like celery stalks and with an equally high water content) should not be visibly dry or brown.
  • The cut base of the bulb should still appear moist.

How To Clean And Store Fennel Bulb

  • Remove the feathery leaves. They can be used as a herb.
  • Remove the stalks at the point where they meet the bulb. The stalks can be added to stock.
  • Cut the bulb in half (if using it raw in a salad), and remove the small hardened core at the base.
  • Slice the cut halves across or into small chunks.
  • Store the bulb uncovered in the fridge.

Baking Fennel

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F
  • Place the cleaned fennel bulb on an aluminum foil.
  • Cook until tender, about 40 minutes. The bulb should have a slight crunch.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

Suggestions For Using Fennel

  • For a warm salad: Mix the roasted fennel with cooked beets and crisp frisée or endive for a colorful and flavorful salad. Drizzle a light vinaigrette of olive oil, champagne wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Toss and serve.
  • Slow cook slices of fennel with olive oil and use the caramelized fennel with broiled salmon.
  • Blanching fennel slices also reduces the sharpness of aniseed flavor. Serve with other vegetables or with asparagus and poached eggs.
  • Add chunks of fennel to stews along with carrots and potatoes.

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Warm Corn Soup on a Cool Summer’s Day

One of A. and N.’s summer favorites is corn on the cob, grilled with a little chili powder, salt, oil, and rubbed with fresh lime – a popular Mumbai street cart fare. When I came across corn soup drizzled with a trail of chili oil at Legume, a restaurant in Pittsburgh, the flavor was reminiscent of the familiar charcoal-roasted spicy corn on the cob that I was so used to eating.

Our knowledgeable waiter detailed the cooking process: blanching the corn quickly, removing the kernels and pureeing them, blending the stock made with corn cobs with heavy cream, and finally drizzling chili oil.

I enjoyed the texture and flavor of the corn soup, and so I planned on reinterpreting their soup to create my own version. As I was experimenting with the stock, I realized that I could easily make two other kinds of corn soup using the same base — a popular Indian-fusion version (Chicken Corn Soup) and a Mexican version with green chilies (Sopa de Elote con Chile).

It is the peak season for corn, and I decided to freeze some in order to extend the season and enjoy the vegetable for a little longer. Checking the National Center for Home Food Preservation site for tips on properly freezing corn, I learned that blanching corn (for four minutes), cooling immediately (preferably in ice cold water), draining, and freezing with enough space around the storage container would prevent the pasty taste associated with corn that has absorbed too much water. Quickly blanching or plunging the corn into boiling water stops the enzyme action that would otherwise degrade the color, flavor, and vitamins in the corn. Blanching corn is an important step, and it pays to watch the cooking time closely.

Corn Soup Base:

Corn – 7-8 ears of corn

Water – 6 cups

 

  • Strip the outer husks of the corn cob, starting from the top and working down to the base. Remove any silky tendrils. Check that the kernels are firm. Remove any soft kernels by scooping them out with a knife.
  • Heat the water to a rolling boil in a pan that will hold the cobs (cut them in half if you don’t have a large enough pan).
  • Plunge the corncobs into the water. Blanch them for four minutes precisely.
  • Remove and drain (save the liquid, as this will be the stock) the cobs immediately and plunge them in ice-cold water.
  • Using a sharp knife, and starting from the stalk side, cut the kernels off the cob in one smooth action. Turn the cob and repeat until all the sides are done.
  • Puree the kernels in a blender.
  • Add the cobs back to the liquid and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the cobs.
  • Use the stock as a base for the following variants:

 

For Corn Soup with Cream: Add 1 tbsp. heavy cream to the hot stock and add back the pureed kernels. Drizzle with chili oil.

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For Chicken Corn Soup: Add 1 ½ tbsp cornmeal to the stock and add back the pureed kernels. Decorate with cooked chicken pieces and spring onion slices.

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For Sopa de Elote con Chile: Add 1 cup of milk and 2 chicken cubes to the hot stock and add back the pureed kernels. Add sautéed green chili and onion mixture to the soup.

 

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