I have a big crock in the centre of my kitchen island that holds all my tools too big to fit in a drawer. I picked the crock up at the Buy & Sell in Tatamagouche. It’s the gorgeous bone-coloured kind that once had a lid and was probably used to ferment cabbage. I’ve also found mini versions of the crock hiding on the Buy & Sell’s crowded shelves – a mini crock I use for tiny spoons, a bigger one for pens by the phone, a huge version I fill with road salt and a scooper that I keep by the front door ready and waiting for icy mornings. Then there’s the pride and joy, this big beauty on the kitchen counter.
My favourite tool jutting from the crock is my knife honing steel. I like to think its smooth wooden handle looks like the grip of a sword, and the metal ring swinging off the end could hang from a holster. I draw it from the crock in an en garde fashion and run my knives along the steel swiftly from top to bottom, alternating sides, again and again, until the knives feel sharper.
I bought the honing steel with a set of Grohmann chef knives when I set out for cooking school way back when. The set came from the Grohmann Knives HQ in Pictou – you know, that building with the massive knife piercing through the bricks?
There was no question where my knives would come from; my whole extended family are Grohmann devotees thanks to my grandfather who was a Grohmann knife salesman. He knew all the chefs in every hotel, restaurant and greasy spoon throughout Nova Scotia, and whenever they needed a knife, he was their man. The same went for his friends, daughters and granddaughters. My grandfather died before I went to cooking school, but I know he’d be thrilled with my knife set choice.
I wasn’t always a smooth knife honer. A few weeks into cooking school our chef instructor faced the class like a conductor, steel in the left hand, chef knife in the right, fine tuning like a samurai. We stood there in our steel-toed boots and flame retardant whites, completely intimidated. But slowly, one knife stroke at a time, those slicing sounds got faster.
I always pull out the steel when I make this wintry salad. I want to slice through the fennel, separating the tops from the bulb, in one, smooth motion. I want to work through the fennel bulb until I have a pile of white, crunchy ribbons. I want to segment the oranges without losing all the juice.
I want precision.
Who would have thought all of this – precision, sharpness, sword skills and a well sliced salad, exist in that old crock from the Tatamagouche Buy & Sell.
ROASTED FENNEL SALAD WITH ORANGE, OLIVES AND A HINT OF SPICE
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 fennel bulb, stalks removed
but save the fronds for garnish
½ cup black olives
1 x 540 ml (19 oz) can chickpeas,
drained and rinsed
½ cup crumbled feta
FOR THE DRESSING:
2 Tbsp orange juice
(from the oranges, left – see method)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp Harissa paste,
or any spicy chilli paste
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
sea salt and pepper to taste
Fennel fronds to garnish
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Roughly chop the feathery fronds from the fennel and set aside. Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, remove any imperfections from the outside of the fennel bulb. Remove core, as you would a cauliflower, then slice the bulb. Toss sliced fennel on lined cookie sheet with olive oil and about ½ tsp sea salt. Roast for 12-14 minutes, checking as you go. Roasting time will depend on thickness of the slices. Remove from the oven when fennel is soft and golden. Set aside to cool.
Using a sharp knife, carefully slice off the top and bottom of the orange so the orange sits flat on the cutting board. Using downward strokes, carefully remove peel from the flesh. Remove any remaining pith as well.
Cut between the membranes to segment the orange, reserving the juices in a small bowl as you go. Scoop segments in a salad bowl.
Remove pits from olives. Or maybe they’ve come pitted. Even better. Add them to the salad bowl along with the chickpeas and the crumbled feta. Add cooled fennel and stir everything together.
Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, using 2 Tbsp of the reserved juice from the oranges. Taste – add more paste if it’s not spicy enough, or salt if not salty enough… it’s flexible. Toss together with salad ingredients and garnish with fennel fronds.