Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Happy Accident of Fennel

Last Friday I mentioned the large market that sets up in the Markt square every week here in Maastricht. Well (and this is very exciting news) I just recently figured out how to post pictures up on this site, and so I hereby bring to you some pics from yesterday's market, curtesy of the digital camera my mother has so kindly bestowed upon me (actually my getting her camera was a complete accident: my sis accidentally absconded with it when she flew out to California to visit me before I left [remember the Top Chef dinner?] and since my mom has an online business and can't be without a camera for more than a day or two, she just bought a new one and let me keep this one. Thanks mom!) Anyway, the market:

That's the Markt, with the market taking up most of it. Usually it's an empty square.

This aren't very good pictures cause I wasn't sure how the people working the stalls would feel about me photographing them, but those are the fish stalls that comprise maybe a quarter of the food market in Fridays. I mentioned last time that besides selling fresh fish, these guys will also fry their wares to order, and you can glimpse some happy shoppers feasting in the top picture (next week I'll try to get some better shots of the fish market maybe).
There's lots of other stuff for sale too, especially meat:

But also fruits and vegetables. Here's the speciality of the season, Limburgian strawberries and white asparagus.

Don't those berries look scrumptious? I bought a box and devoured them the same day, which is probably the best way to do it as they are so soft and fresh I'm sure they would't last more than a day or two.
Besides food, there's also a large flea market in the center, which all kinds of stuff. It was pretty crowded but here's a shot to give you the general idea:

And of course it wouldn't be the Netherlands without flowers!

So that's the Friday market. Again, I will try to get some better pictures in the coming weeks. But for now, on to the meat of the post (which is me trying to be all clever and ironic, maybe you'll figure out why in a bit): 

That there is fennel. Not onions. Fennel. I have never cooked with fennel before; I always just assumed that because it smelled vaguely licoricey and has been described as tasting of anise, I wouldn't like it. It must have been fate convincing me otherwise then, when I sent Todd out Thursday evening to grab an onion for the couscous and vegetable salad I was making for dinner. Instead of an onion, he came back with a bulb of fennel (I actually had to look it up on the Internet to figure out what it was). I wasn't going to use it, but then decided, what the heck! I cut into it and tasted a little bit raw. Slightly anise-like, true, but not too bad. I chucked in the frying pan where I already had some peppers and zucchini going and hoped for the best*.

*A brief side note: I am very, very new to cooking. While I love to eat and to bake, cooking dinner is still a somewhat terrifying experience for me and every time I do it I am a little bit shocked when I manage to produce something edible. Not that that isn't often, mind you; in fact almost time I attempt a meal it comes out at least decent, if not downright good, it's just I am still quite clumsy and slow and I don't really know how to season things correctly. This summer I'll be at my parents' house for almost a month before Todd returns from Maastricht, and I intend to spend a lot of that time in the kitchen absorbing knowledge from my mom, who is an excellent cook. In hindsight, I probably should have been doing that all the time I actually lived at home! OK, back to the regularly scheduled program.

This couscous salad was a classic Katie preparation, meaning I looked in the pantry (the people who rented this apartment before us were kind enough to leave a whole mess of things in the kitchen, though the majority of it is labeled in Dutch and so requires some deciphering and a good deal of sniffing and guesswork to identify) found some couscous and spices and a can of chickpeas, looked up a recipe online I could use as a basic outline, and then modified it to my tastes. This usually means throwing in a lot more vegetables than the recipe calls for, since Todd is a vegetarian and so I don't cook meat (thank goodness for that, too; the couple times I tried to make chicken breasts for previous beaus pretty much made me scared of cooking meat for life). So that's what I did with this recipe, throwing the sauteed veg, the chickpeas, some feta and some olives for good measure in with the cooked couscous along with some freshly ground pepper and white balsamic vinager. 

Boy was this good! Everything went really well together, and it made enough for dinner the next night too. I was most happy with the accidental fennel. When you saute it, it loses its licorice-like bite and becomes sweet and wonderful, soft and brown in places but still retaining some crunch. I actually wish I had two bulbs of the stuff. So thank you to Todd for not knowing the difference between onions and fennel, and thank you to fennel for not disappointing. My food horizons have officially expanded.

P.S. I will be going back into some of the older, picture-less posts and adding photos, so keep checking back.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Katie - Glad you discovered the wonders of fresh fennel. I think the key to enjoying fennel is farm freshness. Our CSA had really nice young fennel last season and it was great. Sometimes grocery store fennel tends to be tougher and stronger (at least to my taste) Can't wait for my own visit to the Netherlands - too bad I think strawberry season will probably be over :(