Having cooked only one meal — braised short ribs with pasta — during Christmas vacation with my parents, I was itching to get back into my kitchen to prepare some decidedly non-processed fare. I wanted to keep it fairly light for our first meal back, which I did with caramelized fennel topped with garlic and anchovy bread crumbs.

When I’ve caramelized fennel before, I’ve always grilled it, but that wasn’t an option with the cold and the wind and general winteriness outdoors, so I marinated the fennel slices in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt & pepper, and some whole grain Dijon mustard before caramelizing it in a pan with a touch of olive oil. Once the fennel had some good color and had just started to soften, I added a little water and covered the pan tightly so it would finish cooking through.

While the fennel was steaming, I tore the crust from four pieces of whole wheat bread and whirred the soft insides in a food processor to make fresh breadcrumbs. I stirred about a half tablespoon of olive oil, a small clove of minced garlic, and an anchovy filet in a skillet over medium heat until the anchovy had dissolved and the garlic was just starting to turn golden. At that point, I added the breadcrumbs and a little salt & pepper and tossed the mixture over medium-high heat until the breadcrumbs were toasty and so fragrant I couldn’t help but sample a pinch straight from the pan.

I do think it’ll be better in the summer, when the fennel is even more aggressively caramelized from the grill, but this was quite tasty for a thrown-together dinner. It’d make a nice side dish or even as a topping for pasta if you reduced the marinade into a sauce. Yum.

Today, I thought I’d make something a little more substantial, so I turned to my bookmarks folder to dig up Jennifer’s deep dish pizza recipe. I added my own spin, using what we had in the house — a tiny bit of salami for flavor, Trader Joe’s fire roasted red and yellow peppers (which I find completely addictive), oil marinated sun-dried tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and a healthy topping of mozzarella.

We spent the morning at the new Corrado’s Family Affair in Wayne, NJ; while I oohed and aahhed over the gorgeous produce, Gil dutifully followed me with the cart. I used Corrado’s brand San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce and was really surprised by how delicious this pizza was, given how tinny the tomatoes tasted straight from the can. I doctored the sauce pretty heavily with extra everything and some sugar and red wine vinegar, though.

But the real reason to try this recipe is for the heavenly crust, which was just perfect, in my decidedly non-authoritative opinion — the crisp base supported a soft, chewy layer and ultimately all of the toppings I piled on. Next time, I’ll probably add even more, now that I know there’s some serious structural integrity to this pie.

P.S. Peter — thank you for the book! I plan to dive in this weekend. Love it. :)

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