Years ago I had dinner for the first (but certainly not the last) time at my friend Christopher Idone’s. He made a stunningly simple risotto (with lemon zest, and not q whole lot else I think), and served up a plate of shaved fennel with only a bit of good olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. And it was unbelievably delicious – which is why I can still remember the meal 25 years later.
He was a big influence on me in my early cooking years, and I have to boil it down to the one greatest thing he taught me, it’s that simple is almost always best, especially when you start with fine, clean ingredients. This version of a simple Italian fennel salad gorgeous and clean and uncomplicated and goes with pretty much everything under the Mediterranean umbrella.
The big secret to this being the best salad it can be is to slice the fennel super duper thinly. If you have a mandolin, this is absolutely the reason to drag it down from that high shelf. If not, use the sharpest knife you have and slice slowly and intentionally.
The reason you want to seek out small fennel is twofold: one, while you will slice off the bottom of the stem/root, you wouldn’t want to cut the whole thing out – this allows the fennel slices to hold their beautiful shape. So a younger, smaller bulb of fennel with have a more tender root.
Two, whether you are using a mandolin or a knife, slicing smaller fennel is much more manageable, especially in terms of getting these alluring whole cross-section slices.
This would be a great addition to an antipasti spread. Also a really nice counterpoint to a rich meal, like these Mediterranean Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops, or this Apple Cider Beef Stew, or this Beef Brisket with Wild Mushrooms.
It’s also weirdly portable, so when you want to do something simple but impressive for a picnic or a potluck, keep this in mind.
Fennel and Endive Salad
- 2 small fennel bulbs trimmed and thinly sliced vertically
- 2 heads endive thinly sliced crosswise
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- sliced fresh chives
- Place the fennel and endive on a serving platter. Sprinkle over the shallots. Drizzle over the lemon juice and the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the herbs over the top. Done.
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