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.
Here is another no fuss sheet pan supper, this time from the Epicurious website. The star of the show, bone in chicken thighs, are paired with a different cast of characters, red grapes, fennel and delicata squash.
Fall is prime season for grapes, the fruit that is harvested now has been hanging on the vine all summer. This translates into succulent fruit with high sugar content and complex flavors. Roasted grapes are delicious and I doubled the amount from the original recipe. Crunchy and a little bit sweet, fennel is in season now and through early spring. I love it’s licorice flavor raw in salads and roasting fennel caramelizes it and mellows out it’s sweetness. Delicata is the smallest of the winter squashes, usually weighing between 1/2 to 1 pound each. They are cylindrical in shape with yellow or cream colored skin with slight ribbing and dark green stripes. Unlike other winter squashes, the skin of the delicata is edible and has fewer seeds, making them easier to prepare.
The recipe starts with a flavorful rub that includes cumin, coriander, (my addition) brown sugar, salt, black and cayenne pepper. Half of the rub is tossed with the vegetables, the other half with the chicken thighs. You can do this step ahead earlier in the day and assemble the ingredients on the sheet pan before you are ready to roast. Space the components evenly on the baking sheet so all the ingredients get nice and brown. For even cooking, rotate the pan halfway through the cooking time. Be sure to use skin on bone in chicken thighs, even if you don’t eat the skin, it protects the meat while it is cooking. As I previously posted, an instant read thermometer will give you the best results.
Sheet Pan Chicken with Delicata Squash, Fennel and Grapes
1T brown sugar
1T ground cumin
1T ground coriander
1T kosher salt
1T freshly ground black pepper
¼t cayenne pepper
1 delicata squash, about 1½lbs, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into ¼” half moons
1 fennel bulb, about ½lb, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and cut into half moons
2c seedless red grapes
1T olive oil
2 lb. bone-in skin on chicken thighs (5-6 pieces)
1/4c torn fresh mint leaves
Preheat oven to 425°F with the rack in the lower third of the oven.
Mix the first six ingredients in a small bowl. Toss squash, fennel and grapes with oil and half of the spice mixture. Arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan.
Rub chicken thighs evenly with the remaining spice mixture. You can prepare both components several hours in advance and store in the refrigerator. Bring the chicken out about 20 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
Arrange the chicken thighs skin side up on top of fruit and vegetables. Roast until skin is browned and an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F, about 25 minutes to one half hour.
Divide chicken, fruit and vegetables between four plates and top with mint.
Our Sunday dinners are often inspired by the recipes in Thomas Keller’s cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home. Ad Hoc is Keller’s casual dining restaurant with menus inspired by the family-style meals that feed his staff. It is a coffee table sized book full of recipes featuring Keller’s home-style recipes and beautiful food photography. However, this is one book not to leave on your table to collect dust. Our family has enjoyed his recipes from this book for short ribs, beef stroganoff and roasted chicken with root vegetables to name a few. Unlike most cookbooks where I pick and choose recipes, this is one that I have read cover to cover. The recipes are well suited for the enterprising home cook and filled with tips and techniques for success from master chef Keller.
Crispy braised chicken thighs with olives, lemon and fennel is an easy satisfying dish. In this recipe, flavorful bone-in chicken thighs are first browned then braised along with olives, fennel, onion, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Keller avoids the usual rubbery chicken skin that can occur with braises by briefly broiling the skin at the end of the cooking time. So you have a winning combination of tender succulent meat and crispy skin. The combination of delicate sweet fennel, salty olives and refreshing lemon take this recipe in a definite Mediterranean direction. The only ingredient you may have difficulty in finding are the Ascolane olives. I actually prefer the juicy briny Ceringolas and have no problem finding them at the Wegmans olive bar. I made one and a half times the recipe to allow for leftovers and take home meals.
Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel
3 fennel bulbs
12 chicken thighs
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup Ascolane or other large green olives, such as Cerignola
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
4 strips lemon zest – removed with a vegetable peeler
8 thyme sprigs
1 cup lower sodium chicken stock
About 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
Cut off fennel stalks. Trim bottom of bulbs and peel back the layers until you reach the core; reserve the core for another use. Discard any bruised layers, and cut the fennel into 2-by-1/2-inch batons. You need 3 cups fennel for this recipe; reserve any remaining fennel for another use.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.
Season chicken thighs on both sides with salt. Heat some canola oil in a large ovenproof saute pan or roasting pan that will hold all the thighs in one layer over medium-high heat. Add thighs skin-side down and brown on the skin side, about 4 minutes. Turn thighs over and cook for about 1 minute to sear the meat. Transfer to the cooling rack.
Reduce heat to medium-low, add onion to the pan, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in fennel, turn heat up to medium, and cook, stirring often, until fennel is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.
Pour in wine and simmer for about 2 minutes to burn off alcohol. Stir in olives, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, lemon zest, and thyme, then pour in chicken stock. Increase heat, bring liquid to a simmer, and cook until fennel is tender, about 1 minute.
Taste the stock and season with salt as needed. Return chicken to the pan skin-side-up, in a single layer. When the liquid returns to a simmer, transfer to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
Turn on the broiler, and put the pan under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp and brown the skin. Remove from oven, and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley leaves.