Fennel, the Lifesaver

And to think there was a time when I didn’t like fennel.  Took a pass when offered.  Turned my nose up at it.  Seriously.   And that time was not so long ago.

I’m glad I had a change of heart because  I don’t know how I would get through the winter without fennel’s sweet, water-packed crunch, a crunch that holds the freshness of summer produce, and all in a package that thrives in the cooler weather.  Tired of earthier, darker seeming roots and cabbages, I bought a lot of fennel at the market today, and I have plans for every last bit of it.

Tonight, a side salad of fennel and arugula lightened and brightened the heartiest, homiest, most comforting of cold Saturday night suppers: macaroni and cheese.  The salad is a cinch.  And if you, like me, miss those ultra fresh, produce-packed tossed or composed salads the warmer weather brings, then this salad is for you.  A great side, it also makes a fine light lunch when served in a larger portion.  A fresh salad in January is made possible by fennel, the lifesaver.

Fennel, Arugula, and Grapefruit Salad with Buttermilk-Parmesan Dressing

Arugula is another great cold weather crop.  I find it tastes a little sharper and smokier in the winter, but the licorice sweetness of the fennel smoothes out the rough edges, while the citrus (also in season; brilliant!) lends brightness and shine.

Serves 1 (multiply as necessary)

  • a handful of washed baby arugula leaves
  • a few thin slices of fennel from a quarter of a bulb, root end trimmed, fronds and stalks removed
  • a few grapefruit segments
  • parmesan cheese shavings, cut from a large block of cheese using a vegetable peeler

Lay the arugula on a large plate.  Compose on top of it the fennel slices.  Scatter over a few grapefruit segments (I like the look of ruby red segments) and then 3 or 4 shavings of cheese.  Drizzle the top with a few drops of Buttermilk-Parmesan Dressing and serve for lunch or as an accompaniment to a rich winter meal.

Buttermilk-Parmesan Dressing

  • 1/3 cup buttermilk, well-shaken before measuring
  • 1/3 cup sour cream, reduced fat or regular
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise, reduced fat or regular
  • 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. white wine or champagne vinegar
  • the green tops of 4 scallions, sliced thinly (reserve the scallion whites for another use)
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the first 4 ingredients in a 2-cup Mason or Ball jar with lid (or similar covered vessel).  Cover the jar tightly and shake the ingredients until well blended.

Add the cheese, scallion greens, salt and pepper, and shake again to blend.  Keep tightly covered and refrigerate until ready to use.

You’ll have a lot of extra dressing but it is good on any green vegetable or salad, plus slaws and potato salads too.