Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn Salad with Apples & Shaved Fennel

For the past few weeks I have been working on some recipes for a new Fall class featuring apples. One of the recipes is for a salad that includes thinly sliced apples and shaved fresh fennel. I frequently add shaved fennel to my salads—I love its subtle crunch and mild anise flavor. Its sweet and aromatic presence compliments a wide array of foods, but it is particularly nice with apples (I posted a recipe that featured cooked fennel and apples earlier this month). If you haven't tried fennel, this salad—with its friendly profusion of apples, dried fruit and nuts—would be a great introduction.

To prepare fennel—whether it is to be cooked or eaten raw—cut the stalks off flush with the top of the bulb. The leaves or "fennel fronds" can be saved and used just like any fresh herb. The stalks are tough and stringy and should be discarded (or perhaps used in a stock, where they will contribute flavor before they are strained out). Trim what remains of the root flush with the bottom of the bulb. Remove and discard any of the outer layers that appear to be dry, tough or badly scarred. What remains is ready to be halved and cored.

If you want to shave the fennel for a salad, simply use a mandoline to thinly slice the halves cross-wise.

For the apples, you can use just about any favorite snacking apple as long as it is crisp and juicy. I have used Cameos, Jonagolds, a mix of Cortlands and Haralsons (while visiting friends in Minnesota) and Braeburns. I imagine it would also be pretty tasty with Pink Ladys. My preference is for an apple that has a "sweet-tart" flavor profile—I think these make for a more interesting salad—but you could of course choose something sweet (like a Gala or Fuji) or something tart (like a Granny Smith).

To me, a good salad is all about a lively interplay of flavors and textures—and the remaining ingredients in this salad have been chosen with this in mind:

Dried cranberries echo the sweet-tart taste of the apples and also introduce some nice texture. Golden raisins could be used in place of the dried cranberries and would be a particularly good choice if you are using a very tart apple.

The bitterness of the endive and walnuts provides some needed contrast, depth and balance. Arugula makes an interesting substitution for the endive—instead of tossing it with the fennel and apples, dress it separately and use it as a "bed of greens" for a mound of the dressed apple and fennel.

A salty cheese (like a blue or maybe some Feta or Ricotta Salata), scattered over the plated salad, gives a nice piquant finish. But I have served it without the cheese and the salad was still very good.

The salad is dressed with a tart vinaigrette that I spiked with more sweet apple-y flavor in the form of a small amount of cider reduction (cider simmered until it is thick and syrup-y). If you prefer a creamy vinaigrette, the creamy Dijon dressing I posted with a pear salad last January—made perhaps with a little extra lemon juice—would be very nice.

I hope you will try this salad—or some variation thereof.  All of the ingredients are coming into season now and will continue to fill the markets through the winter.  For me, this salad is a perfect seasonal antidote to the abundance of substantial and rich foods that will fill our tables during the months ahead.    

Autumn Salad of Apples,
Shaved Fennel & Belgian Endive

For the vinaigrette:
1 T. cider reduction (optional)—see below
2 T. White Balsamic Vinegar
2 T. freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
2 t. Dijon Mustard
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1/2 c. Olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk the cider reduction, vinegar, lemon juice and mustard together until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil in a thin stream to form an emulsion. Taste and correct the seasoning—adding more lemon juice if necessary.

For the salad:
3 or 4 crisp sweet/tart apples—Braeburn, Pink Lady, etc. (about 1 pound)
2 medium heads of fennel, trimmed
3 or 4 heads Belgian Endive (about 12 oz.)
2 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1 T. minced chives
1 T. minced Tarragon
1/2 c. Dried Cranberries—plus more for garnish
1/2 c. coarsely chopped toasted walnuts or pecans—plus more for garnish
4 oz. Blue Cheese (Roquefort, Stilton or Gorgonzola) or Feta—optional

Halve and core the apples. Use a mandoline to slice the apple halves very thinly lengthwise. Place the sliced apples in a large bowl.

Halve the fennel lengthwise and cut out the core. Using a mandoline again, shave the fennel very thinly crosswise and add it to the bowl with the apple.

Halve and core the endives. Place the endive halves cut surface down and cut on an angle into quarter inch wide strips. Add the endive to the bowl with the apples and fennel.

Add the herbs, dried cranberries and nuts and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough dressing to generously coat and toss well. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Mound the salad in the center of individual serving plates or one large platter. Crumble the blue cheese over all and garnish with more cranberries and nuts, if desired. Serves 6 to 8.

• The apples, endive and fennel will all oxidize if cut too far ahead. The fennel is more stable than the apple and endive—it could be shaved an hour or two ahead—but the apple and endive must be cut right before the salad is to be served.
• If you prefer, you may use all parsley (and omit the chives and tarragon).

Cider Reduction: Place a quart of apple cider in a saucepan. If you like, you may add a piece of cinnamon stick, a clove and a few black peppercorns (or any combination of spices you prefer). Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook at a bare simmer until the cider is thick and syrupy—you will have about a half cup of reduction. As the reduction gets thicker, reduce the heat even more to keep it from scorching.

Printable Recipe

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