This salad improves winter morale. It’s for times when all of the usual charms of winter — snow that’s fallen like a cashmere blanket over the city overnight, reducing all of the usual ruckuses (trucks, sirens, deliveries and your own child’s tantrums, which you may or may not have discovered last week you could hear from a full city block away) to the decibel of thick socks padding over hardwood floors — have waned on you; when the “snow” is, in fact, two inches of gray muck, when you are convinced that it will never be warm again and when you fear the next hunt around the apartment for where the snow mittens/hats/scarves/boots were last scattered will be the end of you. Whereas most cold winter comfort foods are soft, rich, carby and white, this is everything but: brightly hued, crunchy and piercingly fresh. It cuts across everything that’s lost its charm; it will be even brighter in your social media feed than the photos of those so-called friends who have abandoned you for sandy shores and island blue skies. This salad has your back.
It falls into the all too thin category of Great Winter Salads. Kurt Gutenbrunner wrote an article about his favorite ones for the New York Times in 2002 that I go back to every winter when I need a reminder that many of my favorite foods are excellent year round — cabbage, fennel, celery root, cucumbers and potatoes. I’m not surprised that this one is clearly still one of his favorites (it’s in his recent cookbook and we even spied it on the menu at Blaue Gans on Saturday night) because it’s perfectly balanced. The refreshing fennel is dressed with lemon for brightness, then tossed with blood orange segments (though I think any orange or grapefruit segment would work), toasted hazelnuts (though he calls for walnuts) and mint leaves. The dressing is just the juice from the blood oranges and olive oil and it’s all so pretty, it’s nothing short of a sun lamp beaming forth from a salad bowl.
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One year ago: Salted Caramel Brownies
Two years ago: Double Coconut Muffins
Three years ago: Meatballs Subs with Caramelized Onions
Four years ago: Mixed Citrus Salad with Feta and Mint (a cousin of this!) and Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes
Five years ago: Chicken Milanese and an Escarole Salad (still a favorite; we make this salad constantly)
Six years ago: Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree and Matzo Ball Soup
Seven years ago: Asparagus, Artichoke and Shiitake Risotto
I find it hard to remember how much I miss good tomatoes and sweet corn when staring at something I could never eat in August, which alone makes this salad nothing short of a miracle. If you think you’re not a fennel person, I beg you to try again. Shaved thinly and tossed with lemon juice and salt, it’s licorice vibe is neutralized, leaving just the refreshing part. Don’t worry if you cannot get blood oranges; any orange variety will do, and I think grapefruit segments would be delicious here as well, giving it a different flavor profile. Gutenbrunner calls for a couple chef-y things in the original recipe I never bother with in my home preparation — 1 teaspoon walnut oil, to toss with the toasted walnuts and 1 tablespoon of Pernod or Ricard to dress the fennel with the lemon. I mean, I’m sure they’re crazy good if you have them around but you will not need them to make this salad delicious and a well-deserved staple of all of your future winter meals. I enjoy the lime zest on top, but for efficiency of ingredients, I think 1 teaspoon of minced fennel fronds (the herb-y looking greens) would work well here too. If you’re looking for meal ideas, he recommends serving this with smoked salmon slices or grilled fillets of sea bass or salmon with skin.
1/4 cup hazelnuts or walnuts
1 medium-large fennel bulb, leaves and stems trimmed off
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large blood oranges
1 small shallot, peeled and cut into paper-thin slices
10 mint leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lime zest
Place nuts in dry skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, to toast. Let cool. If using hazelnuts, roll them around in a dishcloth (or, if cool enough, in your hands), discarding any loose skins. Coarsely chop nuts; set aside.
Slice about 1/2 inch from bottom of fennel and discard. Slice fennel very thinly on a mandonline, benriner or with a knife, starting with flat bottom side. Toss in serving bowl with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Trim all peel and pith from oranges. Holding peeled fruit over bowl containing fennel, use sharp knife to cut sections from membrane and let them drop into bowl. Squeeze remaining membrane over bowl to sprinkle salad with remaining juice, and discard membrane.Add shallots, mint leaves, olive oil and reserved nuts and toss gently. Sprinkle with lime zest.
Do ahead: While the mint leaves will look and taste best on the first day, I really enjoyed the leftovers from this salad for lunch the next day.