Between the exceptional production at Campos Community Garden and the amazing selection at Union Square Farmers Market, going to a supermarket for any food purchase is almost a distant memory. Think of any vegetable, fruit or flower in season and it’s starting to show up in the garden and the greenmarket (and in the latter case, plenty of local meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, grains, baked goods, juices, value-added jams, jellies, pickles, soap, herbal teas, wool, beer, wine and now, local booze!). Summer is steady revealing more and more of its largesse, with new items appearing each week. Two lovelies finding their way from soil to summer tables in the past couple of weeks are fresh fennel and young summer squash.
Fennel is a Versatile Nutrition Powerhouse
Fennel, or Florence Fennel or finocchio as the variety with the large bulb is known, is the same family with carrot, dill and parsley. It is a perennial Mediterranean plant that dates back at least to the times of ancient Greece, when the Greeks fought the Battle of Marathon, which is named after the Greek word for fennel. Greeks and Romans revered the plant for its medicinal qualities and it has been a staple in herbalism since the Middle Ages, treating digestive disorders, enhancing vision and keeping away fleas and witches. Today, we know it is very high in vitamin C, Vitamin A, folate, potassium, phosphorus and numerous other important minerals and vitamins. It is a good source of dietary fiber and has anti-oxidant, immune and digestive system benefits, and is a good instant breath freshener. The plants are an amazing butterfly and bee attractor for your garden.
All parts of the plant can be eaten, from the crisp anise-flavored bulb, the celery-like stalks, the feathery leaves or fronds and the seeds. The seeds are used in many cuisines, from Italian and other Mediterranean to Indian and even Japanese cuisine.
Summer Squash isn’t Just Zucchini These Days
The farmers market is full of all sorts of fun looking summer squash, beyond the standard green zucchini and yellow crookneck in most supermarkets. Summer squash comes in a variety of shapes and colors: from long and thin yellow zucchinis and striped cocozelle di napoli, the round avocado squash, to the curvy zephyr squash and scalloped pattypan squash. Their textures vary slightly from spongy to firm and crisp to buttery smooth, but when fresh, they all have that slightly nutty and pleasant flavor that absorbs other flavors well.
Like fennel, summer squash is also a good source of Vitamin C (particularly their precious blossoms), and various carotenoids, like alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, which are powerful anti-oxidants. When young, the squash is tender enough to eat raw, and as they grow bigger, still remain tender and will steam quickly, or are great in quick easy sautés and summer stews like ratatouille and flavorful curried vegetable dishes.
Here are a few recipes that highlight each of these two delightful and versatile summer favorites best qualities.
Fennel and Orange Salad
1 large bulb fennel, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and very thinly sliced crosswise.
1 medium white or red onion, very thinly sliced
1 lemon or other cucumber, cut into 1/8 inch slices
3 scallions, thinly sliced
6 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons Strawberry vinaigrette (see recipe here)
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1. With a sharp knife, remove rind and pith from oranges and discard. Using edge of knife, separate orange segments into small bowl. Remove segments onto paper towel to blot dry and reserve juice to use with dressing below.
2. Combine or layer fennel, onion, cucumber, scallions, radishes and orange in a large bowl or salad platter. Sprinkle with chopped dill and mint leaves.
3. Add reserved orange juice to prepared vinaigrette and whisk to combine. Drizzle evenly over salad. Toss very lightly, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and toss lightly again. Serve immediately.
Fennel with White Beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
1 large onion, cut into 1/4 inch julienne slices
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 cup cooked or canned white beans (lima beans also work well)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
Handful of fennel fronds, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add sliced fennel and onion, cook until tender and slightly browning, about 10 minutes.
2. Add wine, cook for about a minute, then add stock, beans, oregano, fronds. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half and vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and adjust seasoning to taste.
Mixed Summer Squash Sautéed with Bacon, Artichokes and Mint
Here is a smoky delicious saute that uses bacon to jazz up the flavor of the squash.
4 slices organic/pasture-raised bacon
1 red onion, cut into 1/4 inch julienne slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 summer squash, various types and colors, cut into 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 can artichoke hearts or bottoms, drained, rinsed and cut in half.
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon cream or crème fraîche (optional)
1. Cut bacon slices into 1/2 inch pieces and place into unheated deep skillet. Turn heat to medium-high heat, and cook, stirring often, until crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Remove bacon to plate covered with paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Add onion, cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook about 30 seconds.
2. Add squash to pan, cook uncovered until squash is just softening, about 5 minutes. Add artichoke hearts or bottoms, mint and rosemary. Cook until artichokes are heated, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook about 5 more minutes or until squash is tender but still firm. Serve warm. (Optional: stir in a tablespoon of cream or crème fraîche just before serving).