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Feathered Fennel Variations

(recipe, Mollie Katzen)


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Introduction

I can't think of anything cleaner-tasting than crisp fennel salad shaved paper-thin on a mandoline. Dressed with just a drizzle of excellent olive oil, a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice, and pinches of salt and pepper, it becomes one of the most refreshing salads imaginable. Serve this freestanding salad as a first or in-between course, as an ethereal topping, or as a side dish. In addition to being an engaging soloist, fennel loves the company of fruit, nuts, and cheese — and sometimes even contrasting green to give it color, crunch, heft, pungency, and some sweet, juicy counterpunch. Once you've gotten the hang of shaving fennel, consider building this salad out. The possibilities are many. Choose a fennel bulb that is tight and smooth and ranges from white to light green, with no brown areas. Please use your best olive oil. Attention to these details will make all the difference.

Ingredients

  1. 2 medium fennel bulbs (1 pound total)
  2. 2 Tbsp. high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  3. ¼ tsp. salt
  4. Pinch of finely ground black pepper
  5. 4 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Steps

  1. Remove the stalks and fronds from the fennel bulbs, saving some of the fronds for the salad and reserving the rest for another dish.
  2. Slice the bulbs paper-thin on a mandoline or in a food processor fitted with a very thin, precise slicing blade. You can also try getting this effect with a very sharp knife. You should end up with about 4 packed cups.
  3. Transfer the fennel to a medium bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Toss to coat, then cover tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a day. (Not longer, as it will start to fade.)
  4. Shortly before serving, drizzle with the lemon juice. Serve cold or at room temperature, topped with a few of the most delicate fronds.

Note

Variations: For each of these combinations, use the above recipe as a base, then artfully layer, place, and/or sprinkle the other ingredients around and on. # Sliced grapes, lightly toasted sliced or chopped almonds, shaved Parmesan (sheared from a solid piece of cheese with a sturdy vegetable peeler), chopped arugula. # Orange sections (blood oranges are especially nice) removed from their membranes, sliced olives, pitted and sliced dried plums (aka prunes), thin strips of romaine hearts, pickled red onions. # Pink grapefruit sections removed from their membranes, pomegranate seeds, torn or chopped watercress. # Apple (unpeeled, cut into matchsticks), drizzled with a little extra lemon juice, crumbled blue cheese, lightly toasted chopped walnuts, thin strips of radicchio or minced Belgian endive.