Italy Roundtable: Finocchi Rifatti al Pomodoro
Our monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable is throwing a party this month! Along with Kate Bailward, Jessica Spiegel, Melanie Renzulli, Alexandra Korey, Gloria, and Michelle Fabio, we’ve invited the folks from COSI (Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy) to talk with us about this month’s theme of “authenticity”. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Welcome back to our table…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation.
Late last year I reviewed the delightful “Sustenance: Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland” in which author Elizabeth Wholey takes readers on an absorbing journey through the history and culture of the Upper Tiber Valley, passing by way of the area’s farms and their stocked pantries.
To illustrate and enliven her narrative, she includes a number of simple, traditional dishes taken from the well-worn recipe cards of country housewives from the four regions which meet in the Alta Valle del Tevere: Umbria, Le Marche, Tuscany, and Emilia Romagna.
As a further homage to this excellent little book, I decided to try out one of these recipes for this month’s Italy Roundtable, as nothing can better illustrate authenticity in Umbria (or Italy as a whole) than its traditional cuisine. I immediately knew which to choose; I had just had a conversation with a visiting friend about one of our winter staples: fennel. Along with greens, cauliflower, and broccoli, this crisp, anise-flavoured, celery-like vegetable is omnipresent at our table during the colder months, but besides simply slicing it and dressing it with a bit of salt and olive oil or, if we are feeling posh, mixing it with thinly sliced oranges and either black olives or pomegranate seeds to form a colorful salad, I’m not particularly creative with how to serve it.
So when I spotted Finocchi Rifatti al Pomodoro—billed as “Angiolina’s Thrice Cooked Fennel with Tomato Sauce”—I knew that was the one.
Here it is:
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- 500 g ripe, flavorful tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 350 g Ortobono pomarola, or canned Italian tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 250 ml water
- 1 lt oil for frying
- 400 g all-purpose flour for dredging
- grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
To make the tomato sauce: in a 2 lt heavy pot with a close-fitting lid, heat the chopped garlic in the oil until its aroma is just released (do not overcook), the add the chopped tomatoes or pomarola sauce, water, and salt. Cook for 10 minutes; remove from heat and set aside.
Heat the frying oil to 180° in a deep, heavy saucepan. In a separate pot, bring to boil 2 lt of salted water. Prepare a large bowl with flour for dredging.
Thinly slice the fennel bulbs, wash, and add to the pot of boiling water. Cook for five minutes [I found that this was too long…I would cook just until fork-tender; about three minutes], then remove and dry them on a clean towel.
When they are cool, dredge them in the flour and carefully place in the hot oil. Fry, turning occasionally, until they are a golden color. Lift them out and place in the pot with the pre-prepared tomato sauce.
[We got into a little trouble here, having discovered that fried fennel is pretty darn good just all by itself. Mostly because pretty much any food is pretty darn good if deep-fried. But we managed to quit snacking on them and got most of the fried fennel slices in the pot of sauce.]
When all the fried fennel is in the pot of sauce, cover it and cook on the stovetop for about 10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally and adding additional water to prevent sticking. When the sauce has become thickened and creamy, transfer the fennel with the sauce to a warm serving dish and serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
A special thanks to Elizabeth Wholey for allowing me to reproduce her recipe here!
Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!
- Italy Explained – Where is this “authentic Italy” everyone’s looking for?
- ArtTrav – Art and Travel: the authenticity of seeing art in person
- At Home in Tuscany – The odd woman out’s view on “authentic Italy”
- Driving Like a Maniac – On being authenticated
- Italofile – Everything Is Authentic
- Bleeding Espresso – Living Authentically: How Italy Forced the Issue
And from our friends at COSI:
- Girl in Florence – Authentic Tourism
- Englishman in Italy – How Authentic an Italian are you?
- Rick’s Rome – The Authentic Italian Culture Debate
- Sex, Lies, and Nutella – How to be an authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps)
- Married to Italy – The fear of the fake: What “authenticity” means to a foreigner in a strange land
- Surviving in Italy – What Does It Mean To Be Authentically Italian?
- The Florence Diaries – Searching for the “Real” Italy