Recently a friend’s blog post brought back a long ago memory of cooking. The memory was before I ever traveled, or even thought much about it, so the ‘foreign’ foods I’d eaten were mostly Americanised. On a few occasions I’d had some fairly authentic Italian and German and that was about it. About the time I was reminded of this memory, I found a photo taken the same year and I thought you might enjoy it. Remember when girls wore curlers? BIG curlers? My best friend and I both had wavy hair, and that was just not in fashion in the 60’s. So we used the largest curlers we could find, even repurposed orange juice cans on occasion!
Both being from fairly strict homes with hard working parents, we had to contribute our share of the sweat to cleaning our respective homes every Saturday. After the cleaning was done, and only afterward, the fun could begin. We would shower and set our hair in curlers to spend the afternoon drying, so that we would look beautiful when we went out that evening, if we were lucky enough to have a date or a party to attend.
One particular Saturday, I had organised the ingredients to try recipes given to me by our High School French teacher. She was the second of what would be three by the end of two years. She had actually lived in France, as opposed to the third teacher we had who was the Spanish teacher and was learning French at the same time she taught us. Not a great experience, and fascinating that I learned much at all, mon petit chou!
Mrs. K, the second teacher, had authentic French recipes for three things; bread, onion soup, and cheese soufflé. In those days I had no idea that American ingredients were any different that those used in France, and would yield a somewhat different, though reminiscent, result. Being very inexperienced at creating a menu, I decided that those three things would BE the menu. My best friend who supported me in all my crazy endeavours spent that entire Saturday afternoon helping me make the meal…in our curlers.
Where would we be without our best friends to support our adventures??
I seem to recall sampling some of the dishes at a French Club gathering we had, but certainly I had never cooked them before. At the ages of about 15 or 16 we were far from experienced cooks, though both of us had to assist with meal preparation at our homes. But probably the biggest challenge was that none of my family had tasted anything like the soup or the soufflé, so we were pushing them into the deep end, with ourselves following closely behind. In a little mid-western town of 2500 people in the late 1960’s, people did not eat this way. As I recall my family was not terribly disparaging, but I do know we never had the meal again. The amazing thing was, that we had it at all, and that it was a precursor to tasting, and cooking, so many dishes unfamiliar to me.
Flash forward to the present:
Just over a week ago, I found myself in the signature restaurant of one of Australia’s best known cooks (he does not call himself a chef). You can read about the meal and how it came about in this previous post, but here’s the thing…now, I’ve travelled all over the world and eaten many, very fine meals, and even cooked a few myself, but I’m still learning about my own taste preferences. Dinner at Stefano’s showed me the food that I really love to eat. It is rustic, made with quality ingredients and lots of flavour. After several very nice meals while we were away, the one dish I wanted to recreate was Stefano’s version of fennel. I love fennel, finely shredded and raw, or cooked in soups, but the best fennel I ever had was his baked version, and looked very much like this:
My fennel was baked at 175C (350F) in a single layer, glass baking dish, that had been generously greased with butter. The single, large fennel bulb (no stems) was cut across the layers in slices about 1cm (1/2inch) thick and laid on their sides in the dish. A generous pinch of salt sprinkled over, then 1/2 C of pouring cream, or double cream with about 1 T water to thin it, drizzled over evenly. I covered the dish with foil and baked for 55 minutes, but test to make certain the pieces are very tender. The joy of cooked fennel is a tender texture that brings out its sweetness. Remove from the oven, and turn the oven to grill/broil. Remove the foil from the baking dish, while the griller is heating, and grate 1 C of Romano or Parmesan cheese and sprinkle evenly over the cooked fennel. Place under the griller for a few minutes until the cheese turns golden. I wouldn’t presume to say this is as good as Stefano’s, but it is close enough to satisfy me until I can get back to Mildura!!
Thanks to Celia for hosting our monthly kitchen get together. My contribution this month is a bit different due to traveling and being away from my own kitchen most of the time, but I hope it is of interest, nevertheless.