In spring, we are done with heavy stews and rich winter foods, but the new crops are not yet in. It’s that straddle time for food, clothes and bedding: is it too heavy? Too light? Usually a time of fasting, the spring is a good time to look for sprightly foraged plants that are a tonic for reviving the spirit. Green things are just coming into play again, garlic mustard, some ramps, asparagus. But these are just tastes of green, and my larder is quite bare, so I must still rely on the supermarket. Lately, I’ve been having a ravenous need for greens, and so have been buying big bunches of them–spinach, mustard greens, dandelions, chard. I cook them off with some stock and lemon juice to have on hand for various meals. But I also have a desire for crunch. Cabbage, celery and fennel to the rescue.
I love fennel, but I don’t buy it too often because at the supermarket they often look drab and tired. I know they probably sit around for a while before someone like me buys them. That said, it’s easy to spruce up a tired fennel bulb from the supermarket if you are really have a hankering for that crunchy licorice-y taste. A little bit goes a long way. I love it raw, thinly sliced with just some olive oil, salt and lemon juice. Mixed with red cabbage, also thinly sliced, makes a delightful slaw with the addition of some chopped parsley. And if you happen to see some blood oranges, that is also a nice pairing. While the crunch is desired, it can be tough for your system, so sometimes I like to do a quick sauté to soften a vegetable but retain it’s crunch. An al dente vegetable, you might say. This salad was perfect: the gently warmed fennel mellows the licorice flavor of the fennel, and there is a richness that makes this worthy of main meal.
Warm Fennel Salad
Yields enough for 2 or 3 people, depending on whether it’s a side or main
1 fennel bulb, trimmed of the tops and shave off the end side, and any truly tired pieces. Stand the bulb up and cut in half, then putting the cut side down, very thinly slice. Lightly heat some olive oil, and add the fennel, sautéing it gently. Salt to taste. Remove the fennel from the pan before it cooks too much–a few minutes should be fine.
To serve: arrange blood orange sections, or orange sections, peeled and quartered, on top. Also, roughly chopped flat leaf parsley, shaved parmesan cheese, fresh cracked pepper.