Sunday, April 1, 2007

Tomato, fennel, and potato stew with saffron...and Taqueria Coatzingo

It's been a gluttonous weekend, but it's pretty much impossible for me not to devote Sunday night to cooking at this point. It seems like such a waste not to try something new, with all that lovely free time to chop and simmer. Tonight, well, I regret not inviting anyone to come eat with me, because truly, it was delicious, and I made successful mayonnaise for the first time to boot.

Deborah Madison calls this a "failed fisherman's soup," with all the elements of a bouillabaisse minus the fish. I had some frozen fluke I wanted to use, from my previous big fish, so I slipped in some pieces at the end, but I didn't bother making a fish stock and pretty much followed her recipe. What follows is a paraphrase:

1.5 lbs red or yellow-fleshed potatoes
2 fennel bulbs
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, juice reserved or 2 cups whole canned tomatoes
3-4 T. virgin olive oil
1 large leek, white part only, finely diced
1 large yellow onion, cut into wedges 1/2 in. thick
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 t. herbes de Provence
2-3 pinches of saffron threads
a large strip of orange zest, about 2 in. long
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry white wine
2 T. chopped parsley
12 Nicoise, Gaeta or oil-cured black olives, pitted

Peel the potatoes and slice them lengthwise into quarters or sixths. Trim the fennel and cut into wedges 1/2 in. thick. Cut the tomatoes into large, neat pieces.

Boil the potatoes for 5 minutes. Remove the potatoes but reserve the water.

Warm the olive oil in a wide pan and add the leek, onion, garlic, herbs, a little salt, saffron, orange zest and bay leaves. Cook slowly over medium heat until the onions soften, about 6 minutes. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, half the parsley and olives. Pour in enough of the potato water to cover and bring to boil. Simmer covered for about 35 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Or preheat oven to 375, cover loosely, and bake for about 1 hour. Garnish with remaining parsley and garlic mayonnaise.

I've tried making mayonnaise before, and ended up with this harsh, viscous pudge. It was time to try again. This recipe is from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." Whisk one egg yolk until it's thick, add one t. Dijon mustard, and 2-3 t. lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Add 3/4 c. peanut oil in drops at first, while whisking, and then in a steady stream after it's started to thicken. Then add salt and lemon juice to taste. I set my bowl on the counter with a towel coiled under it, and although I was too clumsy to really drip the oil drop by drop, it really worked. With some mashed up garlic, presto, it was garlic mayonnaise.

It's amazing, I love tomatoes and I know I love tomatoes, but it's still a shock to me every time I eat something rich with tomatoes how sweetly delicious they are. This very simple soup, which is essentially vegetables and herbs, had so much bright flavor, and it just went over the top with a dollop of garlic mayonnaise.

I wish I'd been hungrier so I could have eaten more, but I'd gone to Jackson Heights for lunch to have chilaquiles, enchiladas with mole poblano and more with some friends at Taqueria Coatzingo. Oh the woes of having only one stomach!

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