I learned to love fennel only a year or so ago. Even though I generally like licorice and licorice-flavored things, fennel was just a bit too intense for me. I hadn’t learned to embrace its strong flavor and let it be the focal point of the dish. Once I did that, the universe changed. For the better.
Fennel is an odd looking fellow. Generally speaking we discard the stalks (though rumor has it they can be braised or used in vegetable stock). The fronds look a bit like dill but taste nothing like it. The bulb is the part you want to eat, and even then you have to cut out the core. In the end a vegetable that took up a lot of space in your crisper drawer doesn’t offer that much food. But it is so, so worth it. It is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powerhouse, filled with folate and fiber to boot.
While fennel can be used in many cooked dishes, I prefer it raw. Fennel-orange salad is a definite go-to for me when I have those two ingredients. Fennel is at its peak in the summer and fall, and oranges of course are at their peak in winter – but there is a brief period in the spring, right about now, when you can actually get both. And they love each other very much.
Oranges have become somewhat mundane and underappreciated. But pretty much everyone likes them, right? They’re sweet, juicy, incredibly flavorful, and loaded with vitamin C. I like them. I might even love them. There is a rare day when we don’t have any oranges in our house – perhaps in the height of summer when none of the farmers at the market are selling them.
To segment an orange, lop off the top and bottom, just enough to expose the flesh of the orange beyond the pithy white stuff. Place the orange on a cutting board and use your knife to cut off the peel, following the shape of the orange as you go. You want to remove both the peel and the pith all the way around the orange, so you are left with a pretty naked fruit. Then cut the segments out from between the membranes, using a paring knife and holding the orange over a bowl to catch the juices. When you’re done, be sure to squeeze out the remaining membranes to get any additional juice.
Fennel-Orange Salad (serves 2 as a starter)
- 1 orange, segmented over a bowl to catch the juice
- pinch of salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bulb of fennel, stalks removed, 2 tbsp fronds reserved
1. After you have segmented the orange (see instructions above), remove the segments from the bowl of juice and set aside. Season the orange juice with salt and pepper. Whisk together, and stream in the oil while whisking continuously.
2. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters and cut out the core. Thinly slice the fennel. Add to the bowl with the dressing.
3. Put the orange segments back in the bowl, along with the reserved fronds (you can finely chop the fronds if you want them to be less noticeable). Toss everything together and serve.