Monday, October 3, 2011

Love for Love Apples

Even though I ran away to New York for the summer, I came home to a good yield of my home grown Heirloom tomatoes.  I have to admit, I didn't have so much luck with the larger Beefsteak and Moneymaker varieties, but the small cherry and plum tomatoes proved to be more successful, abundant and less prone to their skins splitting.  (If anyone knows what causes this, I would love to know).

I have planted out some Roma tomatoes which will hopefully give me a crop for early Summer so this is something to look forward to!

I just finished reading a lovely book, 'A Homemade Life' by Molly Wizenberg.  Anyone who likes food, or likes to eat should read this memoir.  I won't give the story away, I happened upon it through a recommendation in my list so purchased it blindly without knowing anything about the story and I must say, loved it.

What made me mention the book in this blog entry is because Molly includes a recipe for Tomato and Fennel soup.  I had never cooked a fennel bulb before in my life until a few nights ago when I decided to make this soup, so I approached it with a little trepidation.  My father is not a fan of fennel, in fact he is very vocal about how much he dislikes it!  Needless to say, he was in the back of my mind whilst making it.  The flavour is mild and not at all over powering of aniseed like I was expecting.  (Ha Dad!)  Overall I thoroughly enjoyed it and will certainly make it again.  The soup is good for a cool wintry night.  It is very hearty.  The tomato, onion and fennel are chunky, so be sure to have a hunk of good sourdough, or grilled cheese alongside for dunking (or a hunk to eat it with, I mean, what's better on a cold night?)

I was in a celebratory mood for no particular reason, (maybe a tomato high?  Who knows?) so made Insalata Caprese for a starter - Just because.  Even though I am a little lactose intolerant, what harm could a little fresh mozzarella do?  (Don't ask!)

Tomato Soup with Two Fennels - Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life

In this recipe, Molly uses 2 medium fennel bulbs, 4 cloves of garlic and 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds.  I tweaked it as I was a little scared of these amounts but if you would like to stay true to her recipe, go by those quantities, otherwise go with mine.

1 tbs olive oil
1 medium brown onion, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 cans whole peeled tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
pinch of sugar (to cut the acidity of the tomatoes)

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, warm oil.  Add onion and fennel and cook until the onion begins to soften.  Add garlic and cook, being careful that it doesn't burn for about 5 minutes over a medium heat.  Add thyme and fennel seeds and cook for around 2 minutes or until fragrant.  Add tomatoes, and crush them with the back of a wooden spoon (or alternatively a potato masher).  Add a cans worth of water and bring the soup to the boil.  Bring down the heat to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered for about 45 minutes.  If it seems a little thick, add more water.

You will know the soup is cooked when the fennel is nice and tender.  Season to taste. Adding a pinch of sugar will cut the acidity and add a nice sweetness.  Molly says to add a splash of red wine vinegar if the soup tastes a little bland, but I didn't find this necessary.

Remember this dish is more like a vegetarian stew, rather than a soup and makes enough to serve four. 

Insalata Caprese - by Me and a bazillion Italian Nonna's who I wish were mine :)

2 large, vine ripened tomatoes (at room temperature)
1 tub baby bocconcini cheese or 1 large ball of Buffalo Mozzarella
Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar (this time I used white balsamic)
A small handful of fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper

Slice tomatoes and cheese into thick rounds and arrange on your serving platter of choice.  Season liberally with salt and pepper (the tomatoes especially) and anoint with a good slug of good olive oil.  Add balsamic vinegar (I pour into a teaspoon and add it this way, so I have more control, otherwise it tends to just flow out of the bottle and everywhere you don't want it).  Scatter with basil leaves.  I like to let this salad sit for about 15 minutes before eating so that all the ingredients are at room temperature and soak up all the delicious oil and vinegar.  Serve with a nice crusty bread (or hunk as discussed previously)...

Do check out 'A Homemade Life'.  I know you will enjoy it as much as I did.  Come over for a cup of tea and a slice of cake and you can borrow it from me if you like :)

Until next time...

Kitty xx

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