Thursday, September 1, 2011

Crab and Fennel Potato Towers

This delicious dish is what I call a “weekend” recipe. It takes a little extra time to make, but it’s basically easy and well worth the fuss. When I invented it in a burst of inspiration last weekend, Ron judged it a “keeper.” 
I advise that you read the recipe through and assemble all the ingredients for this dish before you start to cook. I also recommend that you buy a small, flexible plastic squirt bottle and a set of baking rings before embarking on this. Those are a cook’s staples, and you may well already own these items. Before I had a set of baking rings, I used flat-bottomed tuna tins, well-washed and open at both ends. You’re clever, Dollinks … if you lack these items, improvise!
The four layers of this dish form a “tower.” The bottom layer of stewed, softened bell peppers is nicely seasoned; the second layer of well-drained spinach is pleasantly plain; the third layer of lightly seasoned crab held together with just enough mayonnaise is divine; and the fourth and final layer of potatoes mashed with fennel is satisfying to both the tongue and the tummy. The blend of flavors is magical and I’ll certainly make this again. Much of the preparation can be done ahead, so this dish is entirely suitable for a dinner party at which you plan to serve the main course already plated. 
Assemble all ingredients and read the recipe through before starting. Use one baking ring 3-½ in. wide and about 1 in. high for each tower. The quantities I’ve specified below serve 2 adults.

Get out those baking rings, Dollinks!

Crab and Fennel Potato Towers:
To Prepare the Bell Pepper (Capsicum) Layer:
2 tsp. olive oil
1 red pepper (capsicum), seeded and cut into strips
1 yellow pepper (capsicum), seeded and cut into strips
8 - 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly slivered 
Salt, to taste
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
Wash and wipe peppers, drying well. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the red and yellow peppers, garlic slivers, and salt, to taste. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook 20 min. Remove lid and quickly stir in peppers and garlic. Cover and continue cooking a further 20 min. When peppers soften, remove cover, raise heat to medium-high, and add vinegars. Cook 1 min. before removing skillet from heat. Transfer peppers to small bowl and cool to room temperature. Blot with paper towel. Set aside.

Wash and prepare bell peppers

"Sweat" peppers on low heat.
seasoning with salt, to taste

                                To Prepare the Spinach Layer:
1 bunch fresh baby spinach, stems removed
Wash and steam spinach 3 - 4 min. over boiling water. Cool and drain, hand-squeezing dry to the size of a baseball. Set aside. 

Wash and chop spinach before steaming
Steam spinach, draining well ...

Press spinach over peppers in baking ring on parchment square

To Prepare the Crab Layer:
½ c. finely chopped crab, shelled and well drained 
1-1/2 tbsp. mayonnaise
½ tsp. horseradish sauce
¼ tsp. dill weed
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about ⅛ tsp.)
Combine above ingredients. Set aside.
Spoon crab mixture over spinach, smoothing to even

To Prepare the Fennel-Potato Layer:
½ bulb fennel (also called “anise”)
2 medium potatoes, peeled (I used red-jacketed ones because their water content isn’t overly high)
1 tbsp. butter 
2 - 3 tsp. heavy cream
Trim and set aside fennel’s feathery “plumes.” Reserve two small “plumes” with stems, chopping the remainder finely. Roughly chop fennel bulb together with peeled potatoes. Simmer in lightly salted water 10 - 15 min., or until potato and fennel can be pierced with a sharp knife. Continuing to reserve two fennel “plumes,” add remaining chopped fennel in final seconds of cooking. Drain and return to pot. Mash potatoes and fennel with just enough butter and heavy cream that potatoes whip stiff but are not overly liquid. (Tip: Stiffen limp mashed potatoes with a generous sprinkle of instant mashed potato flakes). Cover pot and set aside, keeping potato-fennel mixture warm. 
Chop fennel and potatoes before
simmering and mashing
Heap fennel-potato mash over crab

To Assemble Towers: (see Note)
Paprika, as garnish
2 tbsp. oil from sun-dried tomatoes (or chili oil or balsamic glaze), in squirt bottle (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Place baking rings on a parchment-lined baking sheet before assembling towers. Trim the parchment so that each baking ring sits on a separate square of parchment. For two servings, divide each mixture equally between the baking rings. Spoon dried, blotted bell pepper mixture into bottom of each ring, smoothing to even. Spoon squeeze-dried spinach over bottom layer, smoothing to even. Spoon well-drained crab mixture over both bottom layers, smoothing to even. Heap whipped fennel-potato mixture over crab layer. Bake, uncovered, 15 min. or until heated through.
Using a wide metal spatula, transfer each filled baking ring to serving plates, centering ringed tower on plate. Quickly whisk away parchment paper under tower. Dust potato-fennel mash lightly with paprika, poking reserved feathery fennel “plume” into the side of the mash, as garnish. Using a squirt bottle, dot or drizzle oil from sun-dried tomatoes (or chili oil or balsamic glaze) around assembled tower. Lift baking rings up and away from each tower. Serve immediately. Makes 2. 

Note: The bottom three layers of this dish may be prepared in advance. Keep covered and refrigerated. 

Whisk away baking ring ...
Garnish plate and fennel-potato mash as desired

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