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Citrusy Fennel Salad And Why Does It Seem Like I Never Cook Anymore?

I honestly feel like all I have done lately is go out to eat. I am either at a media preview for someone's new summer menu or a cocktail party to promote Savour Stratford, which is great so don't get me wrong. I just feel like I haven't cooked anything beyond dippy eggs and toast for weeks.

Father's Day was the perfect excuse to grill up a couple of beautiful striploins, bake some potatoes and make a giant salad. Simple, delicious, and most importantly, made by my own hot little hands.

I taught my first cooking class at Loblaws a couple of weeks ago and it went very well, I think. Nobody threw things at me or booed and, most importantly, everyone seemed to actually listen to me. I was given a recipe for a seafood chowder with fennel and then I was to supply a second of my own choosing. Since the chowder would use up half a bulb of fennel, it seemed like a good idea to use the other half in a salad and showcase a way to eat it raw. The ladies in the class were full of questions and they gobbled up both the chowder and the salad with remarkable enthusiasm and it was a nice feeling to overhear all of them chattering about going downstairs to buy some fennel to make the salad that very night.

I find that fennel seems to really confound too many people and they just look at it, shake their head, decide it's too much work to try to figure out what to do with it and they walk on and buy some celery. Growing up, I certainly had no clue that this wonderful, crisp vegetable even existed so I do get it but it is something that we eat all the time now. I love it braised, roasted, in soups and stews and sliced paper thin to eat raw in salads.

This is the salad we eat most nights from spring to fall. The cheese might change a bit, I use blood oranges when they are in season and then switch to a mixture of orange and pink grapefruit when they are gone. Sometimes I use mandarins or clementines, some almonds instead of pepitas and I might use a mix of walnut oil and canola in place of the olive oil but the basic recipe is as follows.

Citrusy Fennel Salad (serves 3)

1/3 fennel bulb, sliced as thinly as possible
2 blood oranges or 1 orange and 1 pink grapefruit
juice from 1/2 blood orange (or from whatever citrus you are using)
pinch kosher salt
3 handfuls of baby arugula
about 1/4 cup pickled beets, sliced or chopped into bite sized pieces
3 tbls toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup feta
3 tbls olive oil
1 tbls white balsamic
1 tsp honey dijon

slice the fennel as thinly as possible, using a mandolin if you have one.Put in a bowl, squeeze the juice from 1/2 of a blood orange over them, add a pinch of salt and toss lightly to coat.Trim and peel the oranges to remove all of the rind and pith. To do this, cut a slice off of  the top and the bottom and then go around the orange, carefully slicing off the rind in sections, following the curve of the orange until you are left with what looks like a naked orange.Now, working over the bowl of fennel, use a paring knife to cut out the orange sections, letting the juice drip back into the bowl, letting the orange segments drop in. When you have cut out all of the sections, squeeze the membrane that is leftover to get the last of the juice out and then discard another bowl, whisk the olive oil, white balsamic and honey dijon. If you have a small jar, just throw the vinaigrette ingredients in the jar, cover tightly and shake the hell out of it. Instant emulsion.In a big bowl, toss the arugula with the vinaigrette and arrange either on a plate or on individual plates.
Now, place the fennel/orange mixture over the top of that, arrange a few slices of pickled beets on top and finish with a scattering of pumpkin seeds and feta.

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