June 25th, 2009

Community Pot Luck 1: from fennel to chicken

Gigi is a neighbor and friend of mine who has boundless energy and a vision: She has transformed several lots along a funky stretch of Wedgewood Avenue near the fairgrounds into a stunning urban garden oasis.

She’s on a mission, too. Her Wedgewood Urban Gardens , replete with fruit, flower, and vegetable companion plantings, exist not just for beauty, or as a horticultural place of learning. Gigi is passionate about sustainability in a world of rapidly depleting resources and is creating a working, producing urban farm.

We’d been talking about community-minded things and decided that it would cool to host a once-a-month pot luck gathering of folks in our ‘hood—get a cross section of friends and acquaintances to meet, share food, and talk about what they’re growing/cooking/advocating. Nothing formal, mind you. We decided to lightly structure it—holding the pot luck on the third Thursday of each month—beyond that, guests could bring friends and whatever food and beverage of their choice.

For our launch of the “First Third Thursday” about thirty people came bearing splendid covered dishes and casseroles, cakes, salads, sangria! So fun! And, remarkably, there were no overlaps, or cop-outs. No fifteen bowls of potato salad. No limp bags of baby carrots and a tub of onion dip. Our convivial feast was heavy on fresh, local veggies—some harvested from personal gardens—with a tantalizing balance of desserts. (And, only one meat offering in the lot!)

Here are some that I recall: Watermelon gazpacho, roasted golden beet salad, grilled scallions and asparagus, grilled corn with avocado, brown rice-market veggie medley, fusilli with swiss chard, rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes and leeks, southwest bean casserole, squash gratin, mixed berry pie, pignoli-almond torte, chocolate-zucchini cake, and a Pavlova—luxurious, with its meringue shell supporting a cloud of whipped cream, strawberries, and kiwi.

I made two contributions: The first was this orange-fennel salad, using fennel bulbs from Gigi’s own Wedgewood Urban Gardens, layered with onions and lemon basil grown in my guerrilla garden (the easement across the sidewalk in front of our home.)

There’s something curious, almost comical about the look of fennel: wild-haired in the ground, I think of half-buried tribal heads emerging from earth. Once cut and cleaned they’re strange cartoon-like hands, or albino baseball gloves. At any rate, when shaved fresh for a salad, a little of these goes a long way–in a good way.

The distinctive anise flavor meshed with sweet onion, lemon basil, and orange is so refreshing to the palate, especially in this ninety-plus degree weather. Each layer has some curls of parmegiano-reggiano, and is further drenched in an orange vinaigrette, much like the one used in my Earth Day Salad.

The other dish I served was this chicken roasted with plums and peaches. Here, I have to give a shout-out to a fellow foodblogger, Zoe, a fine cook and graphic artist in the Atlanta area. This wasn’t her recipe, but her Apricot Rosemary Glazed Roast Chicken (posted June 15th), with gorgeous photos, was the inspiration.
(First, we eat with our eyes!)

On hand, I had an Au Naturel chicken, market peaches, and plums from my backyard tree. I brined the chicken overnight in an Asian-based solution—hoisin, ginger, brown sugar, red pepper, garlic—
and roasted it with sliced peaches and whole plums. Succulent and fruity.

One good idea often leads to another; whether it’s from our neighborhood feed or our on-line friends in food, sharing what we know rewards in all kinds of ways.

Layered Orange-Fennel Salad
2 Oranges: 1 1/2 to slice for salad, the other 1/2 for juice and zest
4 bulbs fennel, thinly shaved crossways
1 small sweet onion, sliced thin
1 bunch lemon basil, chopped
parmegiano reggiano—a few curls

1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
2 Tablespoons Orange Juice
2 teaspoons Dry Mustard
1/4 cup White Wine Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, except for the olive oil. While whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil in, until it emulsifies.

To Assemble:
Mix the onion and fennel together and lightly dress.
Place a layer of thinly sliced oranges on a platter.
Layer with fennel-onion mix,
Top with chopped lemon basil and curls of parmegianno-reggianno.
Repeat: Orange slice, then fennel-onion, then lemon basil, then parmegianno, until you’ve built a stacked fennel pyramid!
Drizzle with remaining dressing. Garnish with lemon basil and serve.

Asian Roast Chicken with Plums and Peaches
1 gallon water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Ginger
1 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup sliced peaches/plums
1 cup Rice Wine Vinegar

1 Good Chicken
several plums and peaches

Mix up brine, and place cleaned chicken into a tub of it. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Remove chicken from brine, drain, and lay into a baking pan. Surround with sliced peaches, whole and halved plums. Sprinkle with paprika. Truss.
Bake uncovered for 60-70 minutes.

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads

7 Responses to “Community Pot Luck 1: from fennel to chicken”
  1. Patsy Vaughan Says:

    What a great idea! I’ll admit that for a moment the name made me think about Fifth Third Bank. It certainly sounds like you had a mouthwatering array of foods –

    Next time I drive down Belmont Blvd. or over to the Sr. Center at the fairgrounds, I will try to be more aware and admire the local “farming” efforts!

  2. Maggie Says:

    Nance, this food looks yummy! And thanks for taking me by the gardens – they were fabulous and I wish Gigi all the best – she’s helping us all!

  3. Barbara Says:

    Hi Nance,
    That chicken looks gorgeous as well as yummy! I sure wish you would make your pathetic cook of a sister one of those when you come out to visit next. PLEASE!

  4. Madeleine Says:

    Tony’s promised to make me this salad because we both agreed it looks delicious and we’re on a big orange kick these days. Our only problem is finding fennel. No luck at the local Safeway or the Whole Foods. I think we’ll have to find time to get to a farmer’s market.

  5. Wendy Says:

    I want to be a part of the Thursday night group–sounds fab. your chicken is a marvel!! WZ

  6. marva collins Says:

    Hi Nancy!I wanted to suggest to Madeline that she look at Publix…not only do they have BEAUTIFUL fennel, it is also the BEST price in town that I have found. Mike (my husband) & I drove past the gardens & they are really neat…Thanks! I made the salad & it was wonderful….almost too pretty to eat! We would enjoy being part of the Thursday Pot dinner also!

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