Sunday, December 19, 2010

Orange and Saffron Scented Vegetables

So much of vegetarian cooking is about seeing an interesting meat dish, then working out if it could be done otherwise. But every now and then I have a vegetarian recipe, and I find myself thinking about adding a little flesh.

Deborah Madison provides a delicious recipe for what she cheerfully describes as a 'failed fisherman's soup'. Her recipe was inspired by a bouillabaisse which did, indeed, contain fish. And while her version is wonderful, a few mussels make it perfect.

Mussels or not, the bouillabaisse is accompanied by a garlicky mayonnaise. Madison suggests making rouille, that is, spicy garlic mayonnaise flecked with cayenne. However, the little people in my household don't like hot flavours, so I made plain old aioli – garlic mayonnaise – instead.

Orange and Saffron Scented Vegetables aka Not Bouillabaisse

- 1 kg potatoes
- 1 leek, chopped finely
- 1 onion, cut into wedges ½ inch thick
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 pinches saffron threads
- the zest of half an orange, finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 large or 2 small bulbs fennel, halved lengthwise, then sliced into wedges joined at the root
- a handful of white mushrooms, quartered
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 10 stems flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1-2 tbs fennel tops, finely chopped
- 15 black olives, pitted
- olive oil

Boil the kettle. While it is heating, peel the potatoes and halve them lengthwise. Slice the lengths into quarters or sixths, depending on their size. Pour the water into a pot, add the potatoes, and boil for five minutes. Drain.

Warm some olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the leek and the onion, along with a dash of salt. Sauté for a few minutes, then add the garlic, saffron, orange zest and bay leaves. Cook for a few minutes more, pushing it around with a wooden spoon to ensure the garlic doesn't catch and burn. When the leek and onion are beginning to soften, add the wine. Bring to a simmer, and let it reduce slightly.

Add the potatoes, the fennel, the mushrooms, the can of chopped tomatoes, half the parsley and the olives. Cover, reduce heat, and leave to stew for half an hour or until you can slip the point of a knife into the base of the fennel. Stir in the rest of the parsley and the fennel tops.

Remove from the heat, and serve with a bowl of aioli on the side. Best eaten tepid rather than hot.

Note: Near the end, you can throw in half a kilo of cleaned mussels. Clap on the lid, raise the heat, and let them steam for five minutes. Remove the lid, and, if many mussels remain closed, push them around with your spoon, replace the lid, and steam for another three minutes. Check again, and discard any that are still closed. Strew the parsley and fennel tops over the dish, and serve immediately. The mussels will have released a briny liquid into the stew, so go easy on the salt.

Tweaked from a recipe by Deborah Madison in The Savory Way.

(Local: potatoes, leek, onion, garlic, orange, bay leaf, wine, fennel, mushrooms, parsley, mussels if used. Not local: saffron, tomatoes (unless you canned your own last summer), olives, salt.)

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