“Something unique. Something delicious.” That’s how chef Andrew Deuel describes the prix-fixe, ingredient-focused dinners served in Tesori’s private dining room. Available only for parties of ten or more, the dinners are built around a seasonally appropriate ingredient used in each of the five courses. Blood oranges were featured this winter, and for spring, the ingredient of choice is fennel.
Deuel explains, “When we’re selecting the featured ingredient, we’re basically looking at fruits and vegetables because they’re more seasonal. A bacon focused dinner, for example, would be as appropriate in January as it would be in September. An ingredient like peaches, however, works only in the summer.”
Fruits tend to be easier to work with than vegetables, since they’re regularly used in both sweet and savory dishes. Once the selection is made, Deuel starts working on the menu. He routinely uses the featured ingredient in every course, as opposed to using just its essence or flavor, a decision that makes his job more challenging. But challenge is, in part, what makes the dinners so interesting, both for the diners and the chefs.
Fava beans were an early favorite for the spring slot, but pastry chef Tina Tomasello thought it would be too much of a stretch to try to use fava beans in a dessert. In addition to being more versatile, fennel is also a good fit for an Italian restaurant.
Widely used throughout the Mediterranean region, fennel is especially popular in Italy, where it’s called “finocchio.” In “The Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook” (Story Publishing, $24.95), author Andrea Chesman describes fennel as having “… a white bulbous base from which green stalks arise. The stalks sport feathery, dark green fronds.”
The entire vegetable is edible, although most recipes focus on the bulb. Fennel can be eaten raw or cooked, and it’s as delicious when it’s boiled or grilled as it is when it’s sautéed or roasted. As for flavor, Chesman says, “It (fennel) has a licorice flavor, but it is mild and not overwhelming.” She adds, “Cooked fennel is surprisingly sweet, and the licorice flavor is even more subdued.”
One thing’s for certain. Cooked or raw, fennel is neither boring nor single dimensional, characteristics it shares with the Italian inspired food served at Tesori.
Tesori’s spring menu is available for parties of ten or more from April 1-June 30. The cost is $65 per person and an additional $20 for wine pairings.
Tesori, 65 East Adams Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603, 312.786.9911
One Ingredient Menu: Available April 1-June 30
Fontina Fennel Onion Pizza
Fennel-Apple Broth, Cider Vinegar., Diced Apple, Fennel
Fennel Caponata, Eggplant, Bell Peppers, Olives, Golden Raisins, Basil
Italian sausage, Fennel, Mushroom, Fresh Tomato Concasse
Roasted Veal Loin
Brioche, Fennel, Carrots, Spinach, Baby Zucchini, Pearl onions, Mushrooms
Warm Honey and Vanilla Braised Fennel
Almonds, Chocolate, Oranges