The Summer of 1989 found us in San Francisco with Michelle’s mom, Jean. In that pre-Gourmandistan era, we weren’t really aware of the downsides of industrial food—instead, we were crazy for Asian. The San Francisco dining guide we bought before the trip had so many Asian restaurants marked we realized we’d have to eat about six meals a day to try all that we wanted. Not that we didn’t try to hit every one. We were enjoying siu mai, chicken feet and much more amidst Chinese families in a huge dim sum parlor when news of the Tiananmen Square massacre started trickling in. In a Laotian hole-in-the-wall we were taught how to hand-fold richly spiced beef jerky into sticky rice patties, an amazing dish we’ve never been able to find anywhere since. Singaporean chili crabs, Cambodian crispy fish, Chinatown salt and pepper shrimp and Indonesian rijsttafel were all enjoyed.
Jean was a game guest as we wandered through seemingly endless opportunities to eat more Asian. But she gently insisted she wanted to try a meal at San Francisco’s famous vegetarian restaurant, Greens. While we agreed, we weren’t that thrilled. After all, we definitely weren’t some hippie types interested in vegetables, grains and tofu. But when your Mom has put up with parades of congee, kimchi and other Asian indulgences, what can you say? So to Greens we went. And while we can’t remember what we had for lunch that day over two decades ago, we do remember that we loved everything about it—from the food and wine to the company to the view of the bay through huge windows.
Now, although we remain omnivores (albeit more enlightened ones), the vegetarian cookbooks of Greens chefs Deborah Madison and Annie Somerville are some of our most dog-eared and spattered editions. And, when our farm share came with a bundle of fennel, we looked to Somerville’s Fields of Greens for inspiration.
PASTA WITH FENNEL, TOMATO, OLIVES & PINE NUTS
(adapted from Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens) (Serves 2-4, depending on how hungry you are)
- Pasta (we used home-made spaghetti, but dried would do)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups thinly-sliced fennel bulbs
- Finely chopped garlic, garlic scapes and scallions (as much as you want)
- 1 small can diced tomatoes (0r fresh, if you have them)
- Approximately 1/4 cup coarsely chopped black olives
- Salt & pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese
Toast pine nuts in a pan over medium heat, tossing until they turn golden brown. Set aside.
Sauté fennel slices in olive oil over low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. Add chopped garlic, scapes and scallions. After a minute or so, add the tomatoes and olives. Cover and simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in pine nuts.
Toss cooked pasta in pan with sauce. Add Parmesan cheese after plating.