Victorious fennel

Well, dear reader, I am glad to report that the fennel won, hands down. All my past resistance and aversion was swept away with that first lemony peppery licorice-y bite. My taste buds, experiencing something they had never even dared to imagine, went nuts. I’m pretty sure they were dancing the flamenco with all the clapping that was going on. I had actually meant to go out into the garden and get some fresh parsley to add to the salad, but after that first bite my feet remained firmly planted right where they were. I was afraid that anything more would ruin it; it was perfect in all its simplicity. Josh walked into the kitchen, took a bite, and we never made it to the dining table. We ate it standing up, straight from the bowl. I urge you to do the same. Go ahead, try it. Especially if fennel has never been your friend. You may just be surprised.

The tomato-zucchini casserole was also everything I had hoped for. It had our stomachs growling and our eyes glued to the timer as the aroma of ripe tomatoes and rosemary filled the house. When it was finally time for it to come out, the parmesan was golden and bubbly, and the tomatoes had roasted down to a perfect withering of concentrated essence. Nothing quite compares to the flavor of a slowly roasted summer tomato fresh from the garden. Except maybe fennel salad.

Shaved Fennel Salad

2 small bulbs of fennel
½ a large lemon, juiced
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Quarter the fennel bulbs, cut out the hard core at the center and discard. Slice quarters as finely as possible. If you have a mandoline, you’re in luck, but if not, a knife works just fine. Put shaved fennel in a bowl, add the parmesan, the lemon juice, and drizzle with olive oil (go light at first, taste it, and add more if need be). Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir everything together. Taste and adjust to your liking. Eat immediately.

Serves 2.

Tomato-Zucchini Casserole

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
½ cup dry white wine
5 large tomatoes, or 8-10 smaller ones (about 3 pounds), sliced ¼ inch thick
2 medium zucchinis, sliced ¼ inch think
2 sprigs fresh rosemary with stalks removed, finely chopped
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried marjoram or oregano, or a mixture
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another minute or two. Add white wine and cook for one more minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer half the mixture to an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with half the rosemary.

Layer the sliced tomatoes over the onion mixture so that they form a single sheet (you will have leftovers). Layer the sliced zucchini over the tomatoes (you should not have leftovers). Sprinkle the rest of the onion mixture and rosemary over the zucchini. Layer with the remaining tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and crack pepper over the whole dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Sit back, relax, and sip wine while the aromas fill the house.

After 45 minutes, take dish out, uncover, and sprinkle with parmesan and dried herbs. Bake another 10 minutes, uncovered, until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Let sit a couple minutes before serving. Dish up and enjoy!

Make sure you have a small bowl of extra parmesan and a pepper grinder on the table. Not mandatory, but oh-so-delicious.

Serves three as a main course (two if you're both really hungry), four as a side dish.

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