Sunday, October 8, 2006

Italian Roasted Veggies

My father used to buy finocchio, or fennel. He said it like "finoy-kya," which is how everyone on the Sicilian side of my family says it. However you wanna say it, I never wanted to go near it. I thought it was the foulest, funkiest vegetable that God had ever seen fit to drunkenly turn his back and create while blindfolded. An aberration, that's what it was. Sure, I would find the occasional fennel-flavored pastry or cookie acceptable. But the way that my father would brazenly crunch into a whole rib of the raw vegetable, clad in his wife-beater t-shirt and black socks, while on the sofa in front of the tube was not acceptable. For several reasons, really.

Anyway, last year I saw Michael Chiarello making some lovely roasted chickens with fall vegetables, including fennel. He said that fennel caramelized in the oven, and even if you don't like the stuff raw, that he still recommended you try it this way. So I did.

I chop up various veggies: Yukon gold potatoes, fennel, garlic, carrots (okay, as you can see I buy peeled baby carrots so there is no chopping there), sometimes onions, and celery if I have that on hand. Just drizzle olive oil over them, and season them with Nonno's seasoning (sage, rosemary, red pepper and yes, more garlic), salt and pepper, and stir. I roast them for about an hour at 375 degrees. After roasting, I add toasted pignolis (pine nuts).

The resulting veggies are sweet and aromatic, and do not at all induce the dragon-breath that I associate with raw fennel. I like to have them with a dollop of fat-free sour cream, because well, you know me and my condiments. (My brother and I, even after years of viewing this, went straight out and lived the opposite lifestyle.) I recommend using the base, or bulb part of the fennel instead of the thinner stalks. They tend to stay sort of fibrous, even after roasting. I'd also recommend chopping into one-inch pieces so that they cook through and get all melty. At some point, I think I will actually roast a chicken atop these, but for now I'm just enjoying them as a side to whatever meat I have on hand.

Happy roasting!

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