If you had a gift certificate for dinner at Blue Hill, when would you go? Summer or winter? Would it be salads, corn, fresh tomatoes, summer vegetables and berries or root vegetables, greenhouse greens and autumn fruits?
I chose winter. Perhaps it’s my Irish/Slav potato-loving roots and my love of cheeses and cured meats. Or the fact that the gift certificate, given to me by a grateful patient over a year ago, was about to expire.
For those of you who may not know Blue Hill, it’s the restaurant the Obamas chose for date night in 2009, where chef Dan Barber, at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement, serves food the NY times says “you’d almost rather hug than eat”.
We took the girls to Blue Hill for a special family dinner, riding the train to West 4th St one Sunday evening in mid-January, walking through the Village and stopping along the way to browse the vinyl at Bleecker Bobs before taking a late seating at Blue Hill. We’ve never before eaten with the kids at such a high end restaurant, but they’re old enough now to appreciate it, and have a good consciousness of the issues regarding the food supply in this country and the importance of restaurants like Blue Hill in supporting local farmers.
The meal was marvelous, every bite a satisfying surprise. Since the gift certificate went only so far towards what is a very pricey meal, we decided to share the appetizers and skip the bottle of wine so we could enjoy dessert. So no one was more surprised than I to discover that, despite what might have seemed small portions in another restaurant, we were utterly satisfied by the end of our meal and elected to forgo dessert.
But that’s what real food does, doesn’t it? It truly satisfies.
Sometimes I wonder if the reason Americans are so fat is because we just keep looking to satiate our inner craving for real food, a craving that synthetic processed food will never be able to fill. Which suggests that the higher price tag for organic veggies and grass fed meats may actually bely the biggest food bargain we’ll ever get.
Blue Hill-Inspired Braised Fennel and Apples
The Blue Hill appetizer that inspired this dish was braised and roasted fennel, smoked apples and homemade pancetta. They sliced their apples so thin you could almost see through them – without a mandoline, I couldn’t come close, but still I enjoyed my own version almost as much. I based my recipe on one from Simply Recipes (nice pic there of braised fennel), used pistachios instead of pancetta, and drizzled a nice rich balsamic vinegar atop for color and a dash of flavor.
2 small fennel bulbs
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
(optional) a tiny sprig of fresh rosemary or thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 large Gold Rush or other tart crisp apple, thinly sliced
Roasted peeled pistachios – I get mine from a local Middle Eastern Food shop
Trim the fennel, halve each bulb through the core, then cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the fennel (in batches if ned be) until browned on all sides, turning carefully and seasoning with salt and pepper while browning, about 4-5 mins each.
Add the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl. Raise the heat to high, add 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and reduce the sauce until syrupy.
Arange the apples on a serving plate, then top with fennel and pistachios. Drizzle with balsamic reduction.