Fennel Orzotto with Roasted Baby Eggplants (or Chicken) – 25/67

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Today (well, Friday, when I wrote this), the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and the weather feels like it should for September. This morning, students all over the country went to climate strikes, and let the world know they aren’t afraid to use their voices. Earlier this week, Elizabeth Warren held a rally in Washington Square Park and talked about how she’s here because of women’s work. And she took selfies with the crowd for 4 hours. And she had people in the crowd introduce themselves to their neighbors (the best way to quickly form community, imho). I can’t help but be excited. (Feel free to listen to this episode of The Daily and then talk about it with me.) Change and plans and revolt are in the air. 

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Also today, I had my first rehearsal for a new kid’s puppet show I’m directing. It felt like the right group of humans in the room, and we joked around about Ritz the Rat (“The name’s Ritz, Puttin’ on The”) and silly songs. It was goofy and fun and optimistic. Today I’m marginally hung over from drinking two carafes of wine last night with friends over pizza and burrata. Today I have happily consumed leftovers from Daniel’s last night solo cooking adventure, a rice-bean-veggie instant pot affair, even though it includes some little pieces of chicken. I have come to accept I am more flexitarian than vegetarian these days. I will not go out of my way to order or buy meat. But if someone has already purchased it and made it, I don’t have to be as strict, especially when it means free lunch. I’m still not particularly interested in cooking chicken (and that’s really the only meat I’d broach the subject about), but please don’t get mad at me for eating a soup dumpling and still calling myself mostly a vegetarian. (Nobody actually does this, everyone I know is quite even-keeled and open-minded, I’m just putting it out there as a generality.) I realize the earth doesn’t need more meat eaters, and I never want it to be a regular part of my diet. But also, meat dumplings taste better than veggie dumplings. 

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All this to say, I don’t mind a couple Daniel-made chicken-adjacent ingredients. A cup of chicken broth goes far in an otherwise vegetarian dish, and usually makes Daniel more excited to eat whatever it is we’re cooking. I was okay eating this orzo, even though it was browned in chicken fat. I know this isn’t the case for real vegetarians, and apologize if I’ve offended you or lead you astray. So I give the caveat of this delicious recipe — I’ve only made the meaty version of the orzotto (which is, uh, orzo cooked like risotto). And I loved it. So much flavor! However I’m sure it would be equally delicious as a purely veggie main, using just butter or some olive oil in the early steps. The eggplant was a wonderful chicken replacement. Let me know if you try it. 

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three years ago: miso mizuna soup
five years ago: spicy micheladas

Fennel Orzotto with Roasted Baby Eggplants (or Chicken) 

thank you Molly for this delicious dinner recipe! (that I totally hacked to make it more veg-adjacent)

Baby Eggplant – a riff on this real simple recipe 

2 baby eggplants
1 lemon, half in slices, half juiced
Herb sprigs such as thyme, oregano, or rosemary
A couple sliced garlic cloves
Olive oil
s&p

Preheat oven to 450F. Make a slit in your eggplants, and stuff with lemon and garlic and herbs if you got them. Drizzle with half a lemon’s worth of juice and some olive oil. Liberally salt and pepper. Place in a small dish and cover with foil. Roast for 40ish minutes, flipping occasionally, until puckery and soft and tender. Take foil off for last 5 minutes of cooking.

 Chicken and Fennel Orzotto 

2 tablespoons butter
3 chicken legs, bone-in and skin-on (This recipe originally called for 6 pieces of chicken, but I decided the eggplants were a good sub for half the chicken. All other amounts from Molly’s original recipe have remained) 

1 fennel bulb, chopped small (fronds chopped and reserved for garnish)
1 leek, white and pale green parts, in half moons
1 cup dried orzo
⅓ cup dry white wine
2½ cups broth
Zest and juice from half a lemon, plus extra wedges to serve
Chopped fresh parsley
s&p

(This is the part about Chicken)

Preheat oven to 400F. 

Melt butter in a biggish cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper your chicken legs. Place chicken in pan, skin side down. Make sure chicken is in a single layer. If it doesn’t all fit, nestle in new pieces when old ones have slightly shrunk. Cook until meat is opaque around the edges and skin is deeply golden, about 6-7 minutes. Turn chicken so the skin side is up, and transfer skillet to oven, where your eggplant may already be cooking. If so, turn oven down to 400 for this part. Bake until chicken is cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Or until a sticky pokey thing says 160F. Transfer chicken pieces to a plate. Turn oven back up to 450F if roasting eggplant. 

(Start here for Veg Orzotto)

Return skillet to medium heat. (If veg version, add EVOO or a nub of butter.) Add fennel and leek, sprinkle with salt, and saute for about 5 minutes. Veggies should be starting to turn golden brown. Add orzo and toast for a couple minutes, or until evenly browned. 

Deglaze the pan with wine and cook for some moments, until absorbed. Add broth in half cup increments, stirring fairly frequently. Wait until each dose is mostly absorbed before adding the next half cupful. Don’t let the pan get too dry. Taste around 2 cups of broth to see if orzo is cooked, if not, keep adding broth until it’s al dente. This process should take 10-15 minutes. 

Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to your liking, and lemon juice and zest. Place chicken and/or eggplant on top. Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds and parsley. Serve with lemon wedges. 

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great leftovers!

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Caramelized Fennel with Dill and Goat Cheese

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Yes I know I’m roughly four years late to the party but…OTTOLENGHI’S “PLENTY”!!!

In the past, I’ve wistfully flipped through the beautiful, vegetable-and-spice laden pages, whispering “someday, I’ll have you” and getting creepy looks from very nice bookstore people. And then last week, due to a fortunate series of events we will from here on out refer to as birthday + boyfriend’s parents, I received my very own copy. No more awkward cell phone pictures of recipes (as the lovely book people look the other way) for me! Hoorah!

Onward to oil-splotched pages, handwritten notes in margins, and vegetarian nirvana!

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To start, Daniel chose two recipes at random. They absolutely didn’t go with each other but no worries, we made a delicious meal of it AND I cooked two new vegetables! Neither fennel nor okra have ever made an appearance in my kitchen until yesterday. I have now officially found my favorite fennel preparation–Ottolenghi’s version tempers the “licorice”-ness, not by hiding it, but by adding a spicy caramel kick and and a fruity dill and lemon zest finish. And THEN you add goat cheese.

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And the okra? Drenched in a homemade fiery sambal sauce and paired with gingery coconut rice, fried shallots, and cilantro (and roasted shredded chicken for the carnivore), it totally stole the show.

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Please refer to book for exact instructions (Fennel on page 172 and Coconut Rice with sambal and okra on page 230) but here’s roughly how I made the fennel. So far, so good, Ottolengz. Two outta two.

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Caramelized Fennel with Dill and Goat Cheese
from Plenty

2 large fennel bulbs, fronds removed, cut into ½-inch thick slices
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 T sugar
scant 1 t whole fennel seeds
s&p
big handful of dill, stems and leaves, roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, chopped
3-4 oz creamy goat cheese

Heat butter and olive oil in a large pan over high head. When butter starts to sizzle, add a single layer of sliced fennel. Cook without moving for about 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Carefully flip over, using tongs, and brown on the other side (1-2 more minutes). Do this in batches, until all the fennel is cooked. Set fennel aside.

In the same pan, add sugar, fennel seeds, and s&p. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, or until fennel seeds smell good. Add all the fennel back into the pan and cook for just another 1-2 minutes, stirring to evenly coat with caramel mixture. Return fennel to plate to cool.

In a big bowl, mix chopped dill and garlic. Stir to combine. Add cooled fennel slices, and mix delicately to coat. To serve, put all fennel slices in a single layer on a plate. Place spoonfuls of goat cheese on top. Finish with lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil.

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