This simple salad unites two of winter’s best produce offerings, fennel and blood oranges. I added some peppery arugula, tossed them with a blood orange dressing with toasted fennel seed and topped it with toasted walnuts.
In the world of vegetables, poor fennel doesn’t get the attention that it truly deserves. Originally an Italian import, it’s readily found in any well stocked grocery store, usually keeping company near the radishes and lettuces. It’s full of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium and fiber with a texture that is crisp like celery and a flavor is mildly anisey. Fennel is available year round but it’s peak season is fall and winter.
I propose the reason for fennel negligence is twofold. One, many cooks aren’t sure what parts are usable and two, they are not sure how to cut it up. That’s easy to clarify, when shopping for fennel choose small to medium plump bulbs always with the stalks and feathery greenery still attached. To prepare for cooking, cut off the stalks and the feathery foliage. Remove any outside ribs that appear tough or damaged. Slice the trimmed fennel bulb crosswise thinly with a knife or mandoline for raw preparations or cut vertically into larger pieces for grilling or roasting. The stalks can be as a bed for cooking whole fish or stuffed in a chicken before roasting. The stalks could also be used as a component in chicken or vegetarian stock. The feathery fronds make an attractive edible garnish. I use raw fennel quite often in our winter salads and I also like fennel quartered either roasted or grilled. Grilling caramelizes fennel and enhances the flavor.
Blood oranges are readily available now and I like to use them as much as I can during their December to March season The red blush of the blood orange’s skin hints at what’s inside. The magenta flesh color is due to the presence of anthocyanins, the pigment that makes blueberries blue, cherries red and eggplants purple. Blood orange’s flavor is tart-sweet with just a hint of berry.
This is a very easy salad to make. Shave the fennel crosswise very thinly with a mandoline or sharp knife. Always use the finger guard with the mandoline, I learned the hard way on a new, very sharp mandoline a few years ago, when I was shaving fennel come to think of it. Cut the peel and pith from the orange, again using your sharpest knife and cut crosswise into rounds. The crispy fennel and peppery arugula are combined with a blood orange and toasted fennel seed vinaigrette. Add the blood orange sections and toss again. Top with toasted walnut pieces and fennel fronds.
Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Blood Oranges and Walnuts
Ingredients for the salad
- 1 medium fennel, top trimmed off and fronds reserved
- 4 blood oranges
- 6-7 c baby arugula
- ¼c toasted chopped walnuts
Ingredients for the dressing
- l blood orange
- 1 T fresh lemon juice
- 1 T minced shallot
- 1 t honey
- ½t fennel seed
- 1 t salt
- ½c extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Directions for the dressing
- Juice the orange, you should have about ¼ cup.
- In a dry skillet, lightly toast the fennel seeds until fragrant. Cool slightly and crush with a mortar and pestle.
- Stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Reserve.
Directions for the salad
- Slice fennel very thinly crosswise with a mandoline or a very sharp knife, stopping before you get to the core. You should have 1½ to 2 cups.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut the peel and white pith from the oranges. Slice crosswise into thin rounds.
- In a large bowl add fennel and arugula and toss to combine. Whisk the dressing together to recombine. Add some of the dressing to the arugula and fennel and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Add the blood orange sections and toss gently. Divide among the salad plates and top each portion with fennel fronds and walnuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.