Monday, January 13, 2014

Noodles with fennel cream

A couple of years ago, when I started fooling around seriously with the idea of taking plant-based cooking up another level, one of the first things I discovered was, as vegetarian wine guru Stuart Yaniger used to say,  "The Maillard Reaction is your friend."

Monsieur Maillard's principle - the delicious deep, earthy, complex and gently sweet flavors that result with caramelization from heat will quickly and easily add layers of subtle and intriguing flavor to any dish.  Simply start your recipe with deep browning, whether you use the primary veggie itself or onions (always a great pick), garlic, ginger and other veggies first.

Next lesson: Roasting veggies does them enormous favors in the flavor department.  Simmering vegetables in water? Meh! Color, aroma, flavor, nutrients all go pouring down the drain when you dump out the liquid in which they simmered.
Braising your veggies in limited liquid that stays in the pan offers one good alternative, and I use it often. But simply tossing your vegetables in oil, then roasting them at 400 to 450F for 15 to 30 minutes or more, depending on the dish, will bring Monsieur Maillard to the party in full formal dress.

Tonight's dinner was actually very simple:  Cut a fennel bulb and an onion into chunks, put them in a bowl; add two or three big smashed and peeled garlic cloves, toss with salt, pepper and a good shot of olive oil, brown them for about 10 minutes in a black iron skillet, then ram the skillet into a 400F oven and roast for 10 to 20 minutes or until brown and sweet.

For tonight's dish I put 4 ounces of Amish Kitchens Kluski egg noodles on to boil while making a simple fennel bechamel:  a quick roux melt one ounce butter in a saucier, then whisk in 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and whisk until blended and light tan; add 1 cup heated whole milk, whisk until thick, and season with black pepper, salt and fennel pollen.

When the noodles are done, drain them well, then stir the roasted veggies into the thick fennel sauce; add the well-drained noodles, stir to blend, check seasonings and serve in warm bowls.