I have been having an absolute love affair with raw fennel lately. Every night and/or every time I’m at the market my little conversation with myself goes, “what kind of vegetable should we have with dinner? Broccoli? Nah. Cabbage? Not today. Kale? Meh. Ooh, how about a salad with shaved fennel. Oh, yes that sounds perfect.” And it keeps happening. Over and over. So what if I just ate a whole bulb? More fennel please.
It could just be one of my recent cravings. Or perhaps it’s because it’s the closest we’re getting to spring here right now. Still. (Not talking about the weather. I’m not talking about the weather. I’ll just put on another sweater, and not mention the weather.) But, on the whole, I’d say the jag started with this salad.
Fennel salad with burrata? Sign me up, and then give me seconds! Anything that includes buratta tends to be my dream meal. But, the fennel, with its sleek coat of lemon and olive oil and the icy cool of mint leaves was no second fiddle to the burrata’s main act (or what I thought would be the main act, before I sat down to eat).
And, that, in sum, is why I can’t stop eating fennel. I mean, a) I get to use my mandoline, which is always an exciting process because you flirt with losing your fingertips but then get parchment thin delicate sheets of fennel, all in a noodle-like tangle, out of the deal. And then, b) the 15 minute waiting period where the fennel bathes in a lemony dressing ever so slightly softens its crunch and freshens its flavor with the brightness of the lemon – both in juice and zest form – bolstering the anise notes of the vegetable. I fall for lemon-in-both-juice-and-zest-form’s show every time.
This salad, with grapefruit and curds of soft goat cheese is my most recent use of lemony fennel. There is nothing new about combining fennel’s sweetness with the juicy bittersweet of grapefruit. I feel like I have seen it in many a restaurant in past years at this very time of year, the transition time where we start picking up spring while still trailing a few threads of winter along with us. (Once I even had it as a fennel grapefruit salad with pine nuts and chunks of salted brittle candy. That was pretty tasty.) But, look at the word “marinated” there. Marinated makes it different! And new!
Ok, well actually not very. But as I already mentioned, the brief marinating period does make it extra delicious. Plus, the tart grapefruit is, somewhat incongruously, slightly softened by the even tarter lemon. And, grapefruit goes just as well with mint leaves as fennel does, if not better, so they make a tidy triad.
The goat cheese plopped here and there may seem a bit incongruous, at least as a foil for the grapefruit. Or maybe it doesn’t. The creamy, pleasantly chalky crumbles of goat cheese are stunningly different enough in taste – that lovely, goat-y, barnyard-y taste – and in texture, that it somehow pulls everything together. Plus, it makes the salad a meal. Or, if you’re hungry for a bit more, makes it a balanced side for simply prepared seafood or roast chicken.
You know what they say, if live gives you lemons, marinate a thinly sliced fennel bulb with them. They say that, right?
Marinated Fennel and Grapefruit Salad (serves 2-4 depending on hunger level, and whether this is a side or main dish)
- 1 large fennel bulb with fronds
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 2 Tbs. lemon juice
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 ruby grapefruit
- 2-3 oz. soft young goat cheese (like chevre)
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- Remove the stems from the fennel bulb. Reserve 2 Tbs. of fennel fronds from the stems, and either discard or save the rest for another use (it makes a good bed for baking a fillet of fish on top of). Halve and cut the core out of the fennel bulb, then slice the fennel extremely thinly with either a mandoline or a very sharp knife.
- Toss the fennel with the lemon zest, juice, and olive oil, plus a couple pinches of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. Set the fennel aside to marinate at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.
- While the fennel is marinating, cut the peel and pith off of the grapefruit and cut between the membranes to remove the segments.
- When the fennel is done marinating, toss it gently with the grapefruit segments and spread them out on a serving platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Crumble the goat cheese over the salad, and sprinkle the salad with the mint leaves and the fennel fronds. If you wish, drizzle the salad with a bit more olive oil and additional salt and pepper before serving, and then go ahead and serve.