Fresh Fennel Frond Pesto Rice Salad

Whenever I buy fresh fennel, which is now abundant in early summer, there is usually the frilly fronds on top. Yes, they are great for garnish, but after the Fennel Apricot Salad I made the other day, I had A LOT of fennel fronds leftover. The usual answer that most people would give is “Just put it in the mix when making vegetable stock.” That’s a nice idea and all, but its mild flavour wouldn’t really come through. It needs the bulb most of the time to augment its flavour.
I looked at it like any green herb and thought, “Why not pesto?”
I tried to simply do a simple swap with a basic basil pesto recipe, but the fronds are more thread-like than basil and doesn’t grind well. If I blanch them, some of the flavour goes into the water. And as I mentioned already, I wanted to save as much flavour as possible.
I decided to blanch them, but also use the water. I also boosted the “fennel-ness” with a bit of ground fennel seeds. And to save some of the “lost” flavour, I used the blanching water to cook the rice for a vibrant green rice salad!

Fresh Fennel Frond Pesto Rice Salad:

For the Fresh Fennel Frond Pesto:

1 tsp flax seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/3-1/4 cup cold pressed canola oil
Pinch salt
2 cups fresh fennel fronds
3 cups water

Grind the flax and fennel seeds in a blender and leave it in the bottom while the water boils.
In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add the fennel fronds and blanch for 3-5 minutes until wilted.

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Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Reserve blanching water, measuring out 1 cup (keep the rest for another use).

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When the fennel fronds are cool, add them to the blender with the ground flax and fennel seeds. Add the parmesan, oil and salt. Cover and purée until smooth, but chunky in parts. Set aside while cooking the rice.

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For the salad:

1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 cup reserved fennel blanching water
4 spring onions, finely chopped
10-12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

In a small pot bring the blanching water to a boil, add the uncooked rice, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Fluff with a fork and cool to room temperature.
Stir in the prepared pesto to the cooked rice. Gently fold in the spring onions and cherry tomatoes. Serves 4-6.

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For an extra summery option, replace the cherry tomatoes with fresh strawberries and add a good grinding of fresh black pepper.

Today’s local producers included:

Gold Forest Grains (flax)
August Organics (fennel fronds)
Mighty Trio Organics (cold pressed canola oil)
Adele’s Artisan Cheese (parmesan)
Sparrow’s Nest Organics (spring onions)
Doef’s Greenhouses (cherry tomatoes)

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