Monday, August 4, 2008

Finocchio (Fennel) and Apple Salad

Fennel; Guilt By AssociationThis extremely misunderstood vegetable really gets a bad rap due to its seeds. People, who dislike the strong anise/licorice taste of fennel seed, often assume that the actual bulb tastes the same. This is not true; for fennel, as a vegetable, has only a very slight hit of the anise flavor of the seeds and a gentle sweetness as well as an appealing texture when either raw or braised. This delightful vegetable bulb is quite popular in Italy, after all, the edible cultivar of wild fennel, which is grown for the seeds and pollen, is more appropriately known as Florence fennel or Finocchio.
Fennel is delicious raw when tossed with extra virgin olive oil and citrus, however it does not blend well with vinegar, so ensure your vinaigrette is a citrus based one. Fennel also pairs well with Parmagiano-Reggiano as well as true Italian Fontina and walnuts. In addition, it also makes a great garnish for Prosciutto wrapped Pork loin when tossed with Orange and Cardamom.
Braised in a little white wine and chicken or vegetable stock, fennel, combined with grilled leeks, can play a superb accompaniment to your main dish, especially those with hints of citrus such as Duck a l'Orange or Chicken Piccata or Game hen with a browned butter and Meyer Lemon sauce.

This is my favorite late summer salad. Sweet thinly sliced fennel mixes well with the tartness of Granny Smith apple and a light tarragon/citrus vinaigrette. When garnished with a few pink peppercorns and some of the feathery fronds, this is quite appetizing dish.

Let me introduce to you the players in this medley of mandible-watering magnificence:

1 TB plus 2 tsp Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
2 tsp Tarragon; Chopped
2 TB Extra Virgin Olive oil
2 TB Orange infused Olive oil; you can substitute more Extra Virgin Olive oil or Macadamia nut oil plus 1/2 tsp fine orange zest
Salt and fresh ground Green Pepper to taste
12 oz Granny Smith apple after peeling, coring and thinly slicing
12 oz Fennel bulb after removing fronds and slicing extremely thin.
(optional) 1/2 tsp Pink Peppercorns (Which are not really Peppercorns, but that's another post)

Whisk the lemon juice, tarragon, olive oils and, if using, the orange zest together in a medium bowl until emulsified.
Add salt and green pepper to taste.

Peel, core and thinly slice the apples and immediately add them to the vinaigrette to toss - the lemon juice will keep the apples from turning brown.

Remove fronds from the fennel bulb, also remove any of the root that may still be attached (Reserve fronds for plate decor)
Slice fennel extremely thin and add to the bowl with the apples.

Toss to coat.
Add more salt and Green pepper to taste
Divide salad between 4 plates.

Top with reserved fennel fronds and sprinkle with pink peppercorns.


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