Last week I childishly pouted that nobody really loves fennel salads and so many of you commented that you wanted one, I am delighted I’ve been given the external validation I require to share a new one here. This fennel salad is from Café Altro Paradiso, which shares a chef — Ignacio Mattos — with two other New York restaurants, estela and Flora Bar. What I love about the cooking at these restaurants is that there’s a quiet minimalism to each dish that belies the actual complexity of flavors. It’s particularly evident in salads. At estela, my favorite is this endive salad, which seems like the most plain pile of lettuce until you find the heap of loudly flavored texture and crunch below, for scooping onto the leaves. This fennel salad looks equally unassuming when it comes out: a mountain of shaved bulb. But it sits on a piquant medley of crushed olives, thinly sliced stems, minced fronds, sharp cheese, citrus zest, juice, wine vinegar, olive oil, and seasoning that I’m not sure I ever want to stop eating.
Fennel is divisive. Olives are divisive. I know this salad isn’t for everyone — I mean, what is, truly, except puppies, kittens, and thriving postal service — and if you’re about to tell me that you’d like this except for the fennel and/or the olives, shh, you don’t need to because I already know. I’ll have something you like more next week. Everyone gets a turn. I’ve gone full Mom Voice, haven’t I?
But if you’re even ever-so-slightly on the fence, you should know that this one has converted many people. I tend to make it whenever suits us and keep it in two containers — the dressed, shaved fennel bulb in one and the olive mixture in the other — because the complexity is more noticeable when it hasn’t been mixed as long. Salads like this — that keep well in the fridge because they don’t enlist quick-wilting lettuces — are a key part of our summer cooking. These bean salads, broccoli salads, carrot salads and more are the kind of thing you can pull out at the end of the day and serve solo or with something else: focaccia, a simple aglio e olio spaghetti, a grilled steak or chicken thighs, if that’s what you crave. I hope this makes its way into your low-fuss summer rotation, too.
Fennel, here and elsewhere: There are two more fennel salads here, one with blood oranges and one with proscuitto and pomegranate, so they both feel very wintery. There’s also this green salad with a fennel seed vinaigrette. Oh, and also a fennel seed ice cream that I love, even if few others do. Finally, in Smitten Kitchen Every Day, there’s a Fennel, Pear, Celery, and Hazelnut Salad, which I jokingly call the Haters’ Salad because there are so many maligned ingredients in it.
Six months ago: Pina Colada
One year ago: Salted Caramel Pretzel Blondies
Two year ago: Foccacia Sandwiches for a Crowd
Three years ago: Blackberry-Blueberry Crumb Pie
Four years ago: Summer Squash Pizza, Peach Melba Popsicles, and Chile-Lime Melon Salad
Five years ago: Raspberry Crushed Ice
Six years ago: Cold Noodles with Miso, Lime, and Ginger and Apricot Pistachio Squares
Seven years ago: Charred Corn Crepes, Burst Tomato Galette with Corn and Zucchini and Strawberry, Lime, and Black Pepper Popsicles
Eight years ago: Pink Lemonade Bars and Charred Pepper Steak Sauce
Nine years ago: Sugar Plum Crepes with Ricotta and Honey
Ten years ago: Everyday Chocolate Cake and Zucchini and Almond Pasta Salad
Eleven years ago: Asparagus with Chorizo and Croutons and Sour Cherry Slab Pie
Twelve years ago: Cantaloupe Salsa and Plum Kuchen and Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad
Thirteen years ago: Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
Fourteen years ago: Huevos Racheros, Blueberry Crumb Bars, Napa Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing, and Quick Zucchini Sauté
Shaved Fennel and Crushed Olive Salad
- 1 cup castelvetrano (large, green) olives
- 2 large fennel bulbs, tough outer leaves discarded, bulbs, stems, and fronds separated
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
- Finely grated orange zest from most of 1 orange (1 teaspoon, but I never measure)
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lemon
- 3 ounces thinly shaved aged provolone cheese, or another sharp cheese, such as pecorino (about 1 cup)
- Flaky sea salt, to finish
Halve fennel bulbs lengthwise. Using a mandoline or your exceptional knife skills, very thinly shave fennel crosswise. Transfer fennel to a second, larger bowl. Zest one-quarter of lemon over. Juice the lemon over it — it will seem like too much but it’s just right. Season with salt and toss to coat; add more salt if needed.
To serve: Spread olive olive mixture on a big plate. Top with cheese. Arrange shaved fennel over, hiding the olives, then season with flaky sea salt. Or you can just toss all of it in a big bowl, but where is the drama in that.