Don't you find that changes to the way you lead your life, even though they might sometimes seem quite small and insignificant, might trigger a whole chain reaction introducing change in other areas as well? You might decide to find a new route for going to work, or maybe even just to take the stairs instead of the lift at the subway station - all of a sudden, emerging from a different exit, you might discover a new shop that then becomes your new favourite lunchtime stop. You might even discover that someone from your office also goes there and from then on have a companion for your lunchbreak (hopefully, he'll be cute and cuddly, not to mention his glorious derriere, rather than the acne-infested temp who is convinced he'll make it from receptionist to MD in a matter of weeks). But I get carried away.
Or, like in my case, you might have bought organic fruit and vegetables for years, but change supplier - still the same principle, with a mixed organic box delivered to your door once a week, but with this new company I do not have to stick to one and the same box anymore, I can order whatever I like each week. One of many pre-assembled boxes or loose vegetables depending on my mood or needs.
But that's not the only change we've introduced lately. After seeing that (especially in the last few, very busy weeks) much of the stuff we got was withering away or, worse still, starting to sprout or grow mould, we decided to take a different approach to using up our boxed goods. After all, it's organic and therefore has a shorter shelf life than the chemically-treated and genetically-modified supermarket fare. So instead of storing the fresh produce away each Thursday so that it'll last until the next supply arrives, we've declared Thursday night vegetable night and now use pretty much the whole lot when it's at its best. Of course, your standard organic box tends to contain much of the same each week, always providing you with staples like potatoes, carrots, onions, etc but even with the inclusion of seasonal produce, there comes a time when you've seen enough of parnips and swedes. Or chard, for that matter.
So now, with my new veggie-man (whose derriere I don't get to see, by the way, as he just leaves the box at my doorstep... tell me if your organic delivery company offers that premium service ;-)) I choose a new box every week - after using up a small mixed organic box, I might order a deluxe vegetable box, filled to the brim with produce that is a bit less mainstream, like aubergines, jerusalem artichokes, artichokes, celeriac, wild mushrooms... you name it. Or even go completely fruity. This way, we never get bored of our midweek vegetable extravaganza: jerusalem artichoke risotto, fennel baked with breadcrumbs and parmesan, celeriac gratin, carrot & apple salad... lots of little delights to amuse us and make eating vegetables a veritable joy even for those in our household who are quite partial to a good hunk of meat.
Last week, I had fennel and red onion in my box, a packet of puff pastry that needed to be used and off I went to make a tart. Drawing inspiration from a tarte tatin only in as much as that the vegetables are cooked and caramelised in a pan, but avoiding the dangers of flipping the pan over after baking it in the oven, I made a simple upside-up tart. Nothing wrong with that.
And you wouldn't believe how far a little caramelisation goes... the fennel is rendered incredibly mild while retaining its lovely aniseed (I can't believe I just used "lovely" and "aniseed" together since aniseed is a flavour I can't stand, like in liquorice or bread - but in fennel, I love it!) flavour and the sauce has the perfect balance of sweet and sour... if sweet & sour chicken tasted that harmonious, I would be a regular at our local Chinese! The hazelnuts add a lovely crunch as well and the parmesan, well, there's nothing that can't be improved by a sprinkle of parmesan, right?
Perfectly moreish comfort food this is - and it'll be a long time before I grow tired of this!
Fennel, red onion & hazelnut tarte (tatin)
(serves 4 as a light lunch or 6 as a starter)
3 medium fennel bulbs
3 red onions
75 g butter
4 heaped tbsp demerara sugar
600 g puff pastry (ready-rolled)
50 ml balsamic vinegar
1 twig rosemary
1 handful of hazelnuts
a sprinkle of shaved parmesan
Clean the fennel bulbs, then cut into 8 to 12 wedges each. Cook in light vegetable stock for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat fan oven to 200 C.
Meanwhile, peel the onions and cut into similar wedges. Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan, add the onion & fennel and fry until browning. Add the sugar and cook until it dissolves and caramelises. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and leave the vegetables to cook for another 10 - 15 minutes until they are tender and the sauce has thickened. Season generously with salt & pepper to achieve a good balance between sweey and sour/salty. Stir in the rosemary.
Prepare the pastry by cutting it into 4-6 equal pieces depending on the number of portions you're serving. They can be round or rectangular, whatever shape takes your fancy. Place on a non-stick baking mat or a sheet of baking parchment. Fold the edges over once towards the centre, to create a double layer of pastry along the rim of the tart.
Divide the vegetables equally between tarts, spoon over the sauce. Transfer to the oven and bake until the pastry is cooked through, crispy and browning.
Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts and parmesan shavings and serve with a salad on the side - rocket is a particularly good match.