Sunday, December 4, 2011

Salad Days (Fennel, Fig, and Orange Salad)

Today took another turn for the unseasonably warm and as I spent the late morning cooking up something for a later post, it felt as though the kitchen was a sauna. I'm neither the appropriate age nor do I have the appropriate equipment to be expecting hot flashes, so I was taken unawares. Luckily, I already had some ingredients on hand to help cool things down.

Good to go

I don't know if you've noticed, but I genuinely like salads. They make the perfect delivery system for fresh ingredients and new flavors. I suppose I'm approaching something nigh unto a fennel intervention, now, but I have to say it's great in salad, too. It has such a fresh, clean, pure flavor, with a little hint of licorice bite mellow in the background - a cool, crispness that's sure to help you chill out.

Super cool
Of course, it also helps to warm things up. Weather aside, it's still December, so I had some bright, ripe oranges bursting with juice and a precious pouch of chewy dried figs (their season, alas, being past). I may be a sucker for seasonal recipes, but when I want something and it can still be had in convenient packaging, who am I to quibble? I think they may actually even be better dried, it intensifies their flavor and makes for contrast with the fresh oranges.

Getting figgy with it

Aaron had selected some baby Romaine lettuce for this dish, and I think it made a perfect accompaniment. The little, gently lobed leaves have mild flavor but just enough body to hold up to the slender spears of fennel and heavy, juicy orange segments. This salad is a great opportunity to wake up your palate and try to get some fresh greens in before the next round of holiday excesses.

A chance to compose myself
Fennel, fig, and orange salad

The figs I used still had plenty of moisture to them, making for chewy, jammy little pockets of crisp seeds. If your dried figs are more on the dessicated and rock-hard end of the spectrum, pour a cup of boiling water over them and let them soak as it cools. The resulting "fig juice" can be drained and reserved as a handy addition to bread or cake.

1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly slivered
2 navel oranges
12-18 dried Black Mission figs
4 handfuls baby Romain lettuce
2 oz. goat cheese

For the dressing:
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 c Champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Begin by chopping the stalk and fronds from your fennel bulb, then slice it quarters. A quick diagonal chop with the knife can then separate the core from each quarter. Slice these into long julienne strips, as thinly as possible.

My heroes
Slice the ends from the oranges and slide the knife down along the sides, just separating the skin and bitter white pith away from the luscious flesh within. Use a small, sharp knife to cut between the membranes, freeing segments one at a time.

Juicy couture
Inspect the figs and remove any hard, woody stems. Halve or quarter the figs, depending on size, then pile lettuce onto each plate and top with fennel, oranges, and figs. Use a fork to crumble goat cheese on top of each salad.

An exercise in simplicity
To make the dressing, whisk the mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl, then continue to whisk while streaming in the olive oil. Whisk until emulsified and taste to adjust seasonings. Spoon directly over salads or serve on the side.

Serves 4

Tuck in

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