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Asparagus Fennel Salad

Asparagus and Fennel Salad by The Culinary ChaseEven though asparagus is available year-round, Springtime is the best time to enjoy them.  Asparagus and fennel salad may seem like an unassuming dish but don’t be fooled by its looks.  The pine nut dressing deliciously coats the veggies and it’s love at first bite!  And, because this dish does not require a stove top or oven to make it, it’s perfect for a hot day.

Serves 4 as a starter

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 clove of garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
asparagus bunch, ends trimmed
1 fennel bulb, cut in half
125g fresh mozzarella, torn into chunks

To make the dressing, in a mortar add a pinch of sea salt and garlic and use the pestle to muddle until a paste develops. Add pine nuts and bash to a thick paste. Add lemon juice, oil and parmesan.  Muddle  until well combined.  Adjust according to taste by adding more oil, lemon juice or Parmesan.

For the salad, thinly slice asparagus using a vegetable peeler and for the fennel use a mandoline. Place in a bowl and add the dressing.  Toss to combine making sure the vegetables are well coated.  Arrange on serving plates or platter and add mozzarella chunks. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, garnish with fennel fronds and season with freshly ground black pepper.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Try avoid ‘snapping off’ the ends of the asparagus as I find this sometimes wastes too much of the vegetable.  Instead, cut the bottoms off about an inch – white ends definitely need a chop.  Choose firm asparagus that are bright green (dark could mean older stalks), and the tips are tightly closed. Asparagus, also known as the stinky vegetable, has strong cleansing effects on the kidneys and bladder. It flushes out acid wastes so quickly you can smell the ammonia in your urine shortly after eating it.

Baked Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

baked mozzarella cheese sticks by The Culinary ChaseSometimes it’s a photo or description of a photo that makes me stop in my web-surfing tracks. Such was the case when I wondered onto Averie Cooks site.  It was her 2 ingredient, 110 calorie baked mozzarella cheese sticks that grabbed my attention.

egg roll or wonton wrappers
low-fat mozzarella string cheese sticks

mozzarella sticks by The Culinary Chase1. Preheat oven to 400f. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or with parchment paper.
2. Place cheese stick on a diagonal of the wrapper and roll up (tightly), folding in the sides as you go. Place the bundle seam side down on baking tray. Lightly spray or brush with olive oil and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.
3. Turn cheese sticks over and bake for another 5 minutes or until golden brown.
4. Serve immediately and enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce. I used my own marinara sauce.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  With 2 ingredients and no cutting involved, these were definitely easy to make. Just make sure the ends of the cheese are covered well or you’ll end up with some of the cheese oozing out…not a bad thing if you ask me. Enjoy!

Polenta Sticks with Mozzarella and Salami

polenta sticks with smoked mozzarella wrapped in salami by The Culinary ChaseI love simple ingredients as they tend to work symbiotically to create great flavors. Less is more…I know this sounds cliché but it’s true and not just in the food world. The more ingredients you use the greater the risk of losing the essential flavor of your food. When the ingredients are good, they need minimal help to make them better.  This recipe is easy to make and with only five ingredients, it’s a winner.  These polenta sticks with smoked mozzarella peeking out of the salami will be a hit at your next dinner party.  Cornmeal, the golden-yellow polenta, is a culinary staple in Northern Italy. Polenta is a neutral flavored dish that can be used as a base to carry other flavors. Using a medium grind cornmeal will yield the best results. Look for ‘stone ground’ cornmeal on the label.

Serves 4 as an antipasto

1/2 cup cornmeal (packaging may also say polenta)
2 cups water or chicken stock
pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or aged cheddar cheese
smoked mozzarella
fennel salami (or favorite salami), thinly sliced

polentaTo make the polenta sticks, place water and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil then slowly add the cornmeal, stirring occasionally. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes (if using instant cornmeal, the time is shortened to about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Stir until butter is melted then add the cheese. On an 8-inch plate, grease with 1 tablespoon of olive oil then pour polenta on top. Smooth to edges of plate and allow polenta to cool to temperature. Once cool, cut into strips.

polenta sticks by The Culinary ChasePreheat oven to 400f (200c). To assemble, place a thick slice of mozzarella on top of the polenta and wrap a piece of salami around it. Place on a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese has softened. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly…you don’t want these piping hot when you serve them as the flavor intensifies when warm.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  You can make the polenta the night before.  When ready to assemble, remove from fridge and slice into sticks. To keep things looking more uniform, cut the polenta based on the length of the mozzarella slices. If the salami slices are larger than the polenta sticks, fold under (like I did) to make it fit before wrapping. Enjoy!