My cooking demonstration was at the garden at the West Middle School. If you live within driving distance of the school, you should stop by to see the garden...it is a truly special place. The students and adult sponsors from the Community Mercantile Education Foundation have created and maintained a garden that is productive (selling at the Farmers' Market and through the Community Mercantile) and beautiful. The food I cooked and served for the West Garden tour stop featured several items they are growing there (sweet potatoes, red onions and thyme). And from where I stood to give my demonstration on Saturday I had a picturesque view of well-manicured rows of chard, melons and tomatoes.
The savory sweet potato cakes that I mentioned in my last post were created for my demonstration at the West Garden. I had wanted to feature foods that were growing at the garden and I had been told that they had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes. The cakes were a perfect vehicle for the Apple-Fennel relish I made with local Jonagold apples and the red onions and thyme from the West Garden.
These simple little hors d'oeuvre were a big hit, but I was particularly pleased with the relish. It provided a nice sweet-tart accent for the sweet potato fritters and I was struck with how useful and versatile it would be for the upcoming holidays. I think it would go particularly well with cheese--as a topping for a warm brie crostini or as part of a large cheese platter for example. The combination of apple and fennel make the relish a natural partner for roast pork, but I think it would go equally well with turkey. And it would of course be excellent included in a sandwich made from the leftovers of either.
Of course the recipe for this little relish is mostly an outline. If you make it as written, I think you will like it very much--but there are many, many possible and pleasing variations. You could substitute pears for some or all of the apples. Perhaps you could use rosemary instead of thyme....sherry vinegar in place of (or in addition to) the lemon juice....and maybe use honey or brown sugar instead of the maple syrup. As with any relish, the sweet-tart balance is up to you. It should be varied to suit your palate--always keeping in mind the inherent sweetness and acidity of the vegetables and fruits that you use, as well as the flavors of whatever you will be serving it with. If you are not in the habit of cooking "to taste", this relish could be a fun place to start.
1 1/2 cups diced (1/4-inch) apple (something with a nice sweet/tart flavor like a Jonagold or a Braeburn)—about 2 medium apples
1 T. olive oil
1 T. sugar
1/2 c. diced (1/4-inch) fennel (about half a medium bulb)
1/4 c. diced (1/4-inch) red onion
1 T. olive oil
1 t. coarsely chopped fresh picked thyme
1/2 t. fennel seed, toasted and ground in a mortar and pestle
1/8 t. coriander seed, toasted and ground in a mortar and pestle
salt & pepper
1/2 T. lemon juice
apple cider or water
1 T. cider reduction (see below)
1/2 T. maple syrup (or to taste)
|To get a beautiful and uniform dice, use a mandoline to slice the apples and fennel into 1/4-inch slabs. Stack the slabs and cut into 1/4-inch sticks and then cut across the sticks at 1/4 inch intervals.|
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the apples and sauté—tossing regularly—until golden (about 2 or 3 minutes). Sprinkle the sugar over the apples and continue to toss and cook until the sugar is caramelized and the apples are just tender...another minute or two. Transfer the apples to a plate; set aside.
Warm the remaining olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fresh fennel and onion along with a pinch of salt and sweat until beginning to soften—about five minutes. Add the thyme, fennel and coriander and continue to cook for a minute or two more. Add the lemon juice and enough water or cider to barely cover the vegetables.
Cover and simmer until tender. Uncover and add the reserved apples. Increase the heat and cook until all the moisture has evaporated. Add the cider reduction and maple syrup and cook a few minutes more. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper and the sweet/tart balance with lemon juice (or sherry vinegar), cider reduction and maple syrup. Cool. Chill until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup relish.