Monday, January 31, 2011

Crunchy winter salad with fennel and celery

Since reading the article by Mark Bittman in the current issue of Bon Appetit about recent changes he's made to his diet, calling it 'vegan until six,' which I love, I've been obsessing over the recipes on his web site. I was already a fan of the Minimalist column and especially love the charm of his how-to videos. But now I'm seriously hooked. The recipes truly are minimalist and the fresh flavor and crunch of this salad will perk you up plenty on a cold winter's day. 

Fennel and Celery Salad

1 medium fennel bulb
2 celery ribs, trimmed and peeled
1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
2 Tb fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, more to taste
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
Trim fronds and end from fennel bulb and cut into quarters lengthwise, discarding outer layer if exceedingly tough. Slice fennel and celery as thinly as possible (a mandoline would be nice, though by no means necessary).
Whisk together olive oil and lemon juice in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Combine fennel and celery in a large bowl and toss gently with dressing. Season with salt and pepper and top with plenty of Parmesan, freshly shaved with a vegetable peeler. 
But wait — don't throw away those fronds! Reluctant to just toss the beautifully frilly fronds (fennel's not cheap, friends!), I did a quick search online and found plenty of people turning them into pesto — aha! Why not? I turn pretty much every other leftover herby green into pesto, so why not fennel fronds? The fronds have a more delicate flavor than the bulb, so  while I am a garlic freak, I would tread slowly with the garlic in this pesto — it can quickly overwhelm the lovely anise flavor. I added the peas for an extra bit of creaminess and veg,  but that is completely optional. So here's how it goes…
Fennel Frond Pesto
Makes about 1 cup.

1 cup fennel fronds (from 1 medium bulb), chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts, pistachios or slivered almonds
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted slightly (optional)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Combine fronds, garlic, nuts, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a generous grind of pepper in a food processor or blender and process until finely chopped. Add peas (if using), olive oil and cheese and continue to process until smooth. Season with more salt to taste.

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