I tend to be the kind of shopper that ends up with veggies that are rather unusual. Because of this, I often end up playing a kind of game with the check out clerks at the grocery store. Over the years, I have stumped the clerks with all sorts of things. There was one occasion when the teenage girl ringing my order knew almost none of the vegetables I had laid out on the conveyor belt. She had to ask me about every one, and then she had to look each one up on the produce list, and our irritation with each other multiplied with each item she did not know or could not spell:
"Kale." (through gritted teeth).
[Insert questioning look here, as she silently held up the veggie for me to name it]: "Radicchio. Starts with an R."
The radicchio is a tough one, I know. I've stumped folks with endive as well. But the scallions? Seriously?
On the other hand, sometimes my veggies lead to some interesting discussions. Once, the young man (maybe 20 years old) ringing me up held up the butternut squash, and said, "People keep buying these, but I have no idea what you do with it. Should I try one?" We spent the rest of the time it took for him to ring the order and for me to bag discussing how you cook it and how he can look recipes up on the internet. I felt pretty good about that. I introduced a young guy to a new veggie.
I bring this up today, because I particularly enjoyed today's game of "Stump the Clerk." I was at Wegman's and the lady ringing my order was a trainee. She had a mentor doing the bagging and helping her learn how to use the register. Interestingly, the trainee was older than me, while the mentor was much younger. Perhaps it was a sign of the economy. Anyway, the lady was doing pretty well with my order until she came to this:
She held up the bag, and turned with a helpless pleading look to her mentor. I waited for the mentor to ask me, because she was pretty young. But to my surprise, the mentor immediately recited, "Anise, also known as Fennel. Code 4515. Tastes like black licorice."
Well, she blew me away. That girl knew her stuff.
In the past several years, I have really tried to expand the palates in our family by branching out and using a greater variety of vegetables. Fennel is one of those that I have been surprised to find that I truly enjoy.
I first tried fennel once when we lived in Philadelphia (B.K.: before kids), and I did not like it. I told myself that it was OK not to like it; I don't have to like everything. And I expected not to like it because I really am not a fan of licorice. That was about 15 years ago. Fast forward to 2008, when we participated in the CSA program with the farm from Pennington. With the CSA, we ended up receiving some rather unusual vegetables. It seemed a waste not to use them, so we did try a lot of different things. And I will admit that not everything was a hit with the family, but at least we could say we tried it. For example, we never got excited about eggplant. And the kohlrabi was just too silly.
The week that we got 3 fennel bulbs, I groaned, because I remembered making it in Philly and hating it. But I resolved to try it again. I ended up thinly slicing it up with new potatoes and baking it all into an au gratin dish and you know what? It was AWESOME. I have made it many, many times since then, and I even have found some other recipes that I like as well. And every time I serve it, I am grateful for the CSA that got me to try new things and to give a second chance to some other things that I thought I hated.
So everyone: Try something new today! Find a recipe online that sounds interesting. Go to the store and pick out something unusual. Look at the veggies that are in season. Play Stump the Clerk at your local store. It's fun!