Wishful meal planning, and chickpeas and fennel with grilled halloumi

Chickpeas fennel halloumiI had seen Chickpea and Fennel ‘Risotto’ on Real Simple Food this spring, and had it on my to-try list all summer. I don’t know about you, but I am a wishful meal-planner. I admire people who map out their meals for the month, but prefer more flexibilty. Some days the fruttivendolo has a great shiny pile of eggplant, or beautiful little cherry tomatoes, so that is what we eat. Some days we are knackered and just cannot face cooking, so dinner is pizza, or cheese and biscuits. Other days cooking something fragrant and slightly complicated is the perfect stress reliever; you just never know. What I cannot face is coming home hungry and having to then go shopping, so here’s my system. It’s more of an idea list than a meal plan: on a monthly calendar, I note down things I might feel like cooking the next few weeks. Some from cookbooks, some from blogs and my to-try bookmarks, some from mystery jars in the cupboard that are expiring, plus whatever is in in season.

20131005-204203.jpgFrom the monthly idea overview, I’ll make a shortlist for the week, and make sure we have ingredients for 4-5 of them. (That would be the Post-its with crossed out dishes we actually cooked). Some dishes are carried over from month to month, until Italian seasonality forces me to admit defeat and that a dish like Pork with fresh apricots will have to wait until apricots appear next year.

A friend of mine is slightly infamous for going on holiday with massive and densely packed suitcases, as she likes having a wide selection of outfits throughout the holiday. She always does dress impeccably. Me, I can travel with some T-shirts, knickers and toothbrush, and am not known for any sense of style. However, my kitchen is my Bat Cave, full of jars, ingredients and vegetables, ready for most cooking adventures at short notice. After all, you don’t always know what you’ll be in the mood for. Pasta, vegetables, rice? Italian, Moroccan, vaguely Asian? None of that, but still not sure what you fancy?

Ingredients for Chickpeas fennel halloumiThis was one of those nights. Home late, husband on the verge of a cold (otherwise we usually cook dinner together), too hungry for anything complicated. I thought of that chickpea fennel dish which had been on the to-try list for months, and thought – hmmm, maybe something like that, but not with parmesan, and with more veg. I could add the leftover green beans lurking in the fridge some days? And serve it with the precious halloumi (really hard to find in Rome)? Alas, the green beans were moldy (food waste, shame) but I tossed in what I had.

Sautéed chickpeas, celery and fennel with grilled halloumi

One small head of fennel, chopped
One stick of celery, chopped (green leaves and all)
One teaspoon olive oil
One chopped clove of garlic
One tin chickpeas, drained
Pinch of salt
Pinch of dried thyme
200 grammes halloumi, sliced
Some sprigs of fresh basil

I used one teaspoon garlic-infused oil, left over from making garlic confit. I am trying to cook more low-fat, so this was done quickly over high heat, relatively dry. Sauté the chopped fennel and celery quickly, including the leafy bits, until cooked but still with a bit of a bite. Drain and rinse chickpeas, and toss that in, with a pinch of salt, and thyne if you like that. In the meanwhile, heat a small frying pan to quite hot and dry-fry the halloumi slices quickly until golden, no need to add butter or oil. Flip halloumi and fry on other side.

Assemble the sautéed chickpeas, fennel and celery on a plate. Top with golden halloumi slices and a little fresh chopped basil. There you are, a delicious dinner in less than ten minutes! And Chickpea and Fennel ‘Risotto’ stays on the to-try list a bit longer, as that sounds too good to miss.
Chickpeas fennel halloumi
Are you a kung-fu master of planning meals, or do you prefer to wing it? What works best for you?

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