Sometimes in winter all you can find that looks fresh and alive in the grocery story is fennel and citrus fruit. Luckily the two work great together just like peanut butter and chocolate. This easy salad is based on an Italian recipe that came my way when I had the good luck to visit Tuscany some years ago. The texture is amazing and I think it’s one of the best ways to eat fennel.
In North America we see Florence fennel in grocery stores, which has a mild anise flavor and is often mislabeled as anise. Fennel is not anise but a member of the carrot family. I kid you not. It is a rich source of soluble fibre, B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium and plant protein.
Fennel is indigenous to the Mediterranean and is the primary ingredient in absinthe spirits whose popularity peaked in the nineteenth century. You may have read about it in a novel or two. I don’t know anyone who drinks it these days. In Greek mythology Prometheus used a fennel stock to carry fire from Mt. Olympus to Earth. It is a giant among vegetables.
One small-medium fennel bulb serves 2-3 people.
- 1 fennel bulb, not too large. The bigger they are the less tender.
- A couple of good handfuls of rocket, a.k.a. baby arugula.
- 2 oranges.
- 1 lemon.
- 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar.
- 2 strawberries or go savory by using black olives instead. Strawberries are fresh and ripe in Florida this time of year, but not so in most of the country.
- Cut fennel bulb in half. Remove stems and fronds. Cut out the triangular shaped core and discard.
- Thinly slice the bulb against the grain using a sharp knife or a mandoline. Put slices into a bowl.
- Juice the lemon and one orange. Add the juices to the bowl with the fennel.
- Add champagne vinegar to the bowl.
- Add a generous pinch of salt.
- If using olives, add them to the bowl.
- Mix and cover.
- Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. This will tenderize the fennel.
- Meanwhile, segment the other orange and slice the strawberries.
- Wash the baby arugula.
- When ready to assemble, put a handful of baby arugula on each plate. Drizzle with the best olive oil you can find and then top with the fennel and spoonfuls of the juices (and olives). Add orange segments and strawberries if using them.