Prometheus returned the knowledge of fire to humans by carrying a hot coal in a giant fennel stalk. When Zeus discovered his ban overturned, he retaliated by sending Pandora, the first woman to live among men, and her box of troubles to balance the score. The non-so-latent misogyny of the myth aside, that empire and its gods toppled, as empires do. Those ever capricious Greek gods would have their jokes on mankind. Greek humans have lent their hand to the story of fennel too. The Athenian, Pheidippides, carried a stalk of fennel on his two day race to bring Sparta news of the Persian defeat at Marathon. That battle site is reputed to have been a field of fennel. The Greeks have a word for everything, though in the case of fennel, the language prize must go to the Italians who dubbed it “finocchio”.
Feathery and delicate as the fronds that crown the fennel bulb are, its flavor is anything but laid back. It is akin to anise, distinctive and slightly sweet with a crisp crunch when eaten raw. It is a perennial herb usually cultivated as an annual. Bulb, stalk, fronds and seeds are edible, the bulb and stalk as a savory vegetable and the aromatic greens and seeds as a seasoning. Native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, fennel is now naturalized across northern Europe, Australia, North America and China. It plays a significant role in the cuisines of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan. The seeds are a critical element in Italian sausage, in pickling and in breads. The seeds have been used to freshen breath and been candied as digestives.
Pliny the Elder in the 1st C AD, noted that snakes rubbed against the fennel plant to improve their eyesight after shedding their skin. He described twenty-two ailments for which he prescribed fennel treatments. Other Roman citizens made a tonic for cloudy eyes from fennel root. Fennel syrup has long been used to sooth chronic coughs and fennel tea to ease digestive disorders. A 15th C physician claimed, “The juice of fenell put into a mans eares, killeth the wormes therein.” During the Middle Ages, fennel was hung in open doorways to ward off evil. Today, in powdered form, it is used to ward off fleas in kennels and stables.
Fennel is a strong antioxidant, contains significant anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It provides vitamin C, fiber and potassium. Better than the healthy reasons to make fennel party to your table, it is a most refreshing taste, especially on muggy days. Our offering today is a variation on a traditional Sicilian dish: Sicilian Fennel, Red Onion and Orange Salad.
Riddle me this: “A box without hinges, key or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid”. Another egg question is whether it preceded the chicken or vice versa. Dinosaurs were laying eggs millennia before chickens existed. Who was first? Who cares? As long as there are plenty of eggs, we’re ahead of the game.
We’ve foraged eggs longer than we’ve kept records. The Chinese farmed ducks and geese more than 6,000 years ago, then around 3200 BC someone in India noted that the hens whose eggs had been taken, laid more. So began the domestic production of eggs. Egyptians were fond of pelican eggs; the Romans loved peacock eggs; Mandarins enjoyed pigeon eggs and the Phoenicians were partial to the average three-pound ostrich egg. The Roman chef, Apicus, is credited with inventing the baked custard, combining, milk, honey and eggs, though he may have only been the first to write it down. Eggs became the staple thickener for custards, ragouts and sauces and were later used to clarify coffee and soups. These oval spheres were smuggled to a Medici grandmother as safe sustenance when she was imprisoned by the Borgias. It’s a good thing that eggs are so plentiful. For Pope Clement VI’s 1344 coronation, cooks used 39,000 eggs to make 50,000 celebratory tarts. And some say we are the age of excess.
Eggs have symbolized renewal in cultures as diverse as Persians and European Celts who gave red-dyed eggs as gifts at the spring equinox. The symbolism was adopted by the Christians in celebration of the resurrection at Easter. Elegantly decorated ostrich eggs are still suspended in Coptic Christian and Greek Orthodox churches. Iranian wedding couples traditionally exchange eggs. A 17th C French bride ritually broke an egg entering her new home. French aristocracy had their coat of arms painted on gift Easter eggs. Russian aristocracy upped the ante, commissioning precious jeweled eggs of Faberge as Easter gifts.
Boiled hard and soft, poached, coddled, fried, scrambled, baked, deviled, dyed, brined, preserved, omelet-ed, frittata-ed and soufflé-ed, the egg is demonstrably versatile. Likewise, the egg is featured in breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The omelet, a light, yellow cloud of egg, is a perfect lunch. A soufflé may be thought by some as too, too fussy, until they’ve had the pleasure. The incredible edible egg indeed.
The egg, in all it’s forms, is the world’s most complete protein nourishment. Having weathered the slanders of early health pundits and their Chicken Little cholesterol warnings, eggs are once again considered to be an excellent food source. Appropriately there are a goodly number of egg recipes on our website, including Egg Salad, Etc., Muffin Frittatas, Feta Basil Omelet, and Oven Frittata. Egging you on, the recipe today is a Basque Pipérade.
For most of the 20th century in the U.S., kale was grown for its beauty rather than for its superfood attributes. Unlike its cabbage family members, it chooses not to wrap its leaves tightly around its head. Instead it spreads colorful, lacey leaves wide and welcoming, attracting the eye of home gardeners, florists, landscapers and people who just gravitate toward beautiful things. Its texture might be serrated, crinkled or feathery. Its hue runs from a dark blue-green to purple to a golden yellow and ultimately a snowy white. Truth be told, it is gorgeously showy.
It is native to the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Anatolia and has been cultivated for the table for at least 4,000 years. Edible kale and much of its family wandered as far north and west as Ireland and as far east and north as Siberia. It thrived at all stops along its many routes. Russian fur traders are credited with bringing it to Canada from where it traveled south. During the Middle Ages, kale was the most commonly grown and consumed vegetable throughout Europe. Today the Dutch mix it with mashed potatoes and bits of bacon to make stamppot boerenkool. In Asia, it is most often braised with slivers of beef or pork. Kale is a prime ingredient in the Tuscan ribbolita, a rich thick vegetable and bread soup. A Portuguese traditional soup, caldo verde, blends kale with pureed potatoes, broth and a spicy sausage. In Ireland kale is an intrinsic element in their national dish of Colcannon. Kale was promoted during the WWII British “Dig For Victory” campaign to supplement the severely restricted wartime diet of the British population. This veggie contains significant amounts of vitamins C and K; is high in beta carotene and provides anti-cancer properties that boost DNA cell repair, and block the growth of cancer cells. Recently re-discovered as a food in the U.S., in our more health conscious environment, it has spawned a new industry: the production of a healthy snack: kale chips.
In recent years, a locavore Vermont artist launched a promotion for kale and produced tee-shirts declaring “Eat more kale”. The corporate fast-fooder, Chick Fil A, took them to court claiming an infringement on their slogan, “Eat more chickin”. The powers that be agreed and Chick Fil A won their point. Perhaps we should consider a lawsuit against anyone who so clearly cannot spell for claiming ownership of language.
So kale is not just another pretty face, but a pretty face with distinctive merit behind it. As such, our website has many recipes including Kale Fondue on Crostini, Ribollita, Ginger Garlic Kale and Portuguese Kale and Red Bean Soup. This week we are offering one of Kay Carroll’s recipes, which takes a lighter leaf from this nourishing plant, to create a delicious dish, Kale, Apple Pancetta Salad which balances the flavors with an interesting dollop of maple syrup.