24 November, 2008

green tomatoes and fennel

Well. Cast your minds back to the day I told you of my chagrin at... green tomatoes. So pretty as you can see, so temptingly piled up at the farmer's market, so completely inedible. Impenetrable is even a fairer description. My esteemed Italian mother-in-law generously shared her idea of drizzling them with olive oil, sprinkling them with garlic and roasting them, perhaps with a few peppers for sweetness. That sounded like a stellar idea but I never did it. I left them in their blameless bowl on the kitchen counter and went about my business. They didn't take up too much room and they didn't say anything, so after a bit they became as part of the setup, like an extra drawer or faucet.

Until yesterday, when I realized that the green tomatoes in the bowl had been replaced with red tomatoes! In the two weeks that they've reposed there, they followed nature's call and ripened themselves with absolutely no help from me. No siesta in a paper bag to collect the carbon dioxide or whatever other nonsense people say about putting things in bags. They just held their heads high and did what green tomatoes do if left to their own devices. I think this development has implications for all sorts of other things in life, like child-raising. I remember once Avery was telling me of the extraordinary scholarly exploits of one of her little friends, extolling her virtues, describing all the events her parents took her to to broaden her little mind, the care that was taken with her homework. After a bit she said, "I guess she's like a hothouse flower, and I'm just a common garden variety, left to grow on its own."

Just like my green tomatoes. So there.

And so I decided to thank them for their independence of spirit by inventing a side dish just for them. And here it is.

Fennel with Tomatoes and Pinenuts
(serves four)

good glug olive oil
2 large or 4 small heads fennel, outer layer discarded, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
pinch fennel seeds
8 little tomatoes, halved
handful toasted pinenuts

Pour the olive oil into a skillet over medium heat, then throw in the fennel plus seeds and garlic. Saute till fennel is softish, then add the tomatoes and saute until they just begin to break up. Toss with pinenuts and salt to taste.


So simple and good. This dish would be very nice with the pork fillet I have in the fridge for tonight, but because I was being so very spontaneous, we had it with a scallop-linguini dish and it was an odd combination.

Today, would you believe it, I am going to make a loaf of bread. Seriously. I am. I have read a recipe from my dear mentor Orlando, and it sounds like something even I can do, baking-challenged as I have proved myself historically to be. But I have acquired, from the lovely Bushwacker Whole Foods in Hammersmith's King Street, a bundle of fresh yeast. And I also came away with a packet of polenta, which the nice organic lady behind the counter assured me is the same thing as cornmeal. Please God let this be true. It's only to sprinkle, though, not to be an integral part of the loaf. Even listening to myself I sound so lame that if the bread turns out to have the consistency of a tennis ball I will not be surprised. Wish me luck. I'll report.

My ankle has returned nearly to normal, which is a relief. Being literally lame is a drag. Avery's school Christmas fair was an enormous success, and I mean enormous: imagine 700 schoolgulls, with all their myriad siblings, parents, grandparents and anyone else they could drag along, stuffed into the Great Hall and surrounding classrooms, mothers running along with paper plates piled high calling, "Mince pies and brownies for a pound!" and "Staff panto in the music room at noon!" By the end of the afternoon, after I had collected untold amounts of money in our Book Stall, the mother in charge decided she'd almost rather pay people to take the books than have to box them all up for Oxfam, and the form IV gulls we had with us were only too happy to begin shouting, "Six books for a pound! Take as many as you can!"

It was lovely: an amalgam of all fairs past, from Avery's baby school through to PS 234 in Tribeca, where after September 11 every school event took on massive emotional significance, right through to the uniformed preciousness of her primary school here, and now to this year, where every week she seems to shed more of her little-girl-ness. John gave her money and she set off alone to trawl the fair, gathering up this or that little friend as she went. I saw her, out of the corner of my eye, periodically through the day, eating cotton candy (or "candy floss" as they call it here), laughing and chatting. Another milestone: off on her own.

Right, my unfamiliar little knob of yeast beckons. Really, from the counter it's waving at me: "Come on, Kristen, you can do it, put a little POWER to it!" Nerve-wracking.


A Work in Progress said...

From what I've read here, if Avery is common garden variety anything, then the rest of us are weeds.

I don't think polenta is the same thing as cornmeal by the way - it's too finely ground. After having occasional yearnings for cornbread, I finally had to import a few packages back from a trip to the states - I have seen them in the "imported" section here, but outrageously priced. I was told you can find coarse ground cornmeal in Indian groceries, but I have not been successful there either...

As for green tomatoes, my mother used to pickle them! With lots of garlic - yum!

S. said...

My mother uses green tomatoes to make green salsa. They must be cooked, though. Raw green tomatoes are inedible.

Kristen In London said...

Well, apparently (I've done a little research) polenta is rougher than cornmeal but not by a lot. Everyone seems to indicate I can substitute it for cornmeal... I hope I don't screw up and find that I can't use it for the cornbread I just said I'd contribute to Thanksgiving? You sound very knowledgeable on the subject, though, so now I'm scared. I love that everyone's mothers have ideas for green tomatoes! Thank goodness mine ripened.

Foxi Rosie said...

What a wonderful combination, it sounds delightful. Sometimes I know you can replace semolina for cornmeal, more coarse and can make the outer texture of things more crisp (please note I didn't say crispy!), you know like when you do caramel chocolate squares. Check it out with our mentor, the font of all knowledge.

Kristen In London said...

for heaven's sake, Foxi Rosie, semolina? More unfamiliar terms! Get this: I've hired a lovely cook to come to ME two weeks from today, and in the morning we're putting bread on, then as it rises or doubles or whatever bread does, we're making fresh pasta, then she's staying to make the bread turn into bread! I decided I needed to learn at the elbow of a professional. Massively excited at the prospect!