Thinly sliced, dressed with a little olive oil and lemon zest and salt and pepper lightly added, fennel salad is just the ticket for cool summer dinners, or something light after hearty braised winter dishes. Not everyone likes a vegetable that tastes like licorice though they might really enjoy a slight burst of that flavor when they eat a sweet Italian sausage or certain fennel-studded salamis. The flavor is light and fennel shreds crunchy.
Fennel bulbs, white at the bottom with feathery, dark green fronds, reminiscent of dill, are available year-round in the grocery store. I see them occasionally at farmer’s markets but have no luck growing them. My soil, I think, is too sandy and fennel bulbs end up thin and fibrous, not at all appealing for salad.
To slice fennel, a mandolin really is a terrific tool. It shaves the bulb thinly and regularly. If you are good with a knife then by all means use that. A food processor slicing blade might work, too, as long as you avoid pressing the fennel bulb too firmly into the feeding tube because thin shaves are best.
The salad benefits from only a little olive oil, and a few shreds of lemon zest. I sprinkled zest over the fennel and also into the olive oil and let it sit for about an hour before dribbling it over the shaved fennel. You don’t need vinegar or lemon juice, but if you want a little acidity, just squeeze a half a lemon over the salad until there is a light sprinkle of juice.
A few fennel seeds lightly toasted and left whole sprinkled on the salad are a good addition and some of the feathery fronds torn up and sprinkled are a beautiful garnish.
- One fennel bulb
- Zest of half a lemon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Shave the fennel bulb thinly and scatter over a platter, two to three slices deep.
- Sprinkle about half the lemon zest on the feel shreds and add the remaining zest to the olive oil in a separate small bowl. Let stand up to an hour.
- Dribble the oil over the shaved fennel.
- Sprinkle the optional fennel seeds over the shaved fennel.
- Add a light sprinkle of salt and pepper.
- Toss just before serving.