Tag Archives: fennel

Spinach, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Hazelnuts

3 May

Do you ever wonder what makes the perfect salad?  Not really?  Just me?  I’ve thought long and hard about this—because that’s what I do, my friends, I think about salad—and I have to say that the elements that make a perfect salad, though constantly evolving, are almost always related to one magical element: texture.

Sure, flavor counts (obviously), but I think a salad’s texture will make or break it faster than the time it takes to swallow your first bite.  No matter how good a salad might taste, I find that, if the greens are soggy, the vegetables limp, or the various add-ons mushy or pasty, it takes a bit of effort to make each bite go down.  This is, of course, no scientific study I am undertaking here, but just a very personal observation.  And since I eat a lot of salad, I’d like to think that my established findings on the quality of salad-making hold at least a bit of weight.  Even if they don’t, I have good news for you.  I think I just made a salad with the most pleasing texture I have ever encountered.

Crisp spinach paired with crunchy-thin slices of fresh fennel provide a lovely base.  Perfectly ripe pears, so juicy and perfumed, counter the crispness of the spinach and fennel.  Toasted hazlenuts, flavored with a smidge of sea salt and brown butter to make their nuttiness even more forward, accent the crunch of the salad, but also pair perfectly with the pears.  A light vinaigrette drizzled over everything provides a punch of fruity acidity and, though I am aware that I have now started naming attributes that don’t concern texture, I don’t even know how to stop talking about how much I love this salad.  Sure, it’s true that I like almost all salad, but this salad?  This is a salad that everyone will like.

Last Year: Ya Hala’s Hummus This is, hands down, the best hummus you’ll ever eat

Spinach, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Hazelnuts Recipe

½ cup whole hazelnuts

1 large fennel bulb, green fronds and core removed

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

large pinch of coarse sea salt

5 ounces spinach leaves, washed and dried

1 large ripe pear

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

juice of ½ a lemon

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon unfiltered apple cider

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Arrange hazelnuts on a baking sheet, then toast in oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the skins of the nuts begin to peel loose and the nuts appear dark golden brown.  Remove the nuts to a clean dishtowel, then wrap the towel around the nuts and allow to sit for a couple of minutes.  Then, with your hands, vigorously rub the hazelnuts in the dishtowel to remove the hazelnut skins.  Coarsely chop the de-skinned nuts (cutting them in half is just fine—you want nice big bites here), then set aside.

Slice the fennel to be as thin as possible, using either a mandoline or an extremely sharp knife.  In a medium bowl, combine the fennel slices and the lemon juice, tossing to coat all the fennel in the lemon juice.  Set aside.

In a small pan, heat the butter over medium heat.  Allow the butter to melt, then foam, then begin to sputter.  Stirring and watching the butter the whole time, allow it to turn a nutty dark brown.  Immediately pour the browned butter into a small bowl, then add the hazelnuts and toss to combine.  Add the pinch of sea salt and toss some more.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, and apple cider.  Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking all the while to combine until the dressing is thick and emulsified.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the spinach in a large bowl.  Core and slice the pear into thin slices, then add the pears to the spinach.  Pour the fennel, with any lemon juice remaining in the bowl, on top of the pears.  Give the hazelnuts in brown butter a bit of a stir, then add half of the nuts to the salad.  Pour half of the dressing over the salad, then toss to combine evenly.  Taste the salad to see if you desire more dressing.  Add as much dressing as you deem fit (some people like more dressing, some like less, so I am leaving the finished amount up to personal taste).  Serve the salad with the remaining hazelnuts sprinkled over the top of each serving.

Makes 4 very large servings, or 8 side salads.

Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Fennel, and Spinach

8 Jun

Having just shared with you my favorite recipe for pizza dough, it seems only natural that I should then share with you what currently holds court as my most favorite pizza.  As you may have guessed, it involves a lot of vegetables.

I have no idea if this is actually true, but a friend of mine who hails from a long line of Italian descendants once told me that, in Italy, one is more likely to spot a great deal of vegetables on a pizza than a great deal of meat.  Toppings are sparse, he told me, and slices are not meant to be weighted down with a heavy pile of cheeses and meats.  Again, I have no idea if this is actually true, but I was intrigued to hear it.  Not being Italian, and having never been to Italy, I can only venture a guess as to what the Italian pizza-eating experience is like, and I would never judge what someone did or did not want on a pizza.  I am Indian, for heavens sake.  My people put mutton and peas on pizza.  That right there disqualifies me from passing judgment on any and all matters related to pizza toppings.

What I feel I can do, however, is at least make a valid statement concerning what I think is the best way to handle and cook pizza dough.  In my mind there are two very important steps that one can follow and be almost guaranteed a flawless pizza experience.

1) Hand stretching dough, though it takes marginally more time than using a rolling pin, produces a light and bubbly crust with plenty of stretch and chew.  The heat from your hands helps the dough to relax, and you don’t end up toughening the dough and forcing out all the air like you do when you flatten out a disc of dough with a rolling pin.  Take the extra four minutes and hand stretch your dough.  You won’t regret it.

2) Bake your pizza on the lowest oven rack possible, at the highest temperature possible.  You don’t need a pizza stone to get a great crunch on your pizza dough, but you do need to create a bit of auxiliary heat under your pizza.  Placing a heavy baking sheet in the oven, on the lowest rack possible, while your oven preheats, will help crisp up the bottom crust of your pizza.  The heat from the hot pan will work its way up through the crust of your pizza while the cheese on top melts and the top crust browns.  Ever make a pizza with crisp edges and a soft and gummy middle?  Using a preheated pan in the lower portion of your oven will solve that problem.

This particular pizza, while featuring a bit of meat, is heavy on vegetables without being heavy itself.  It is also extremely satisfying.  Thin slices of Italian chicken sausage add a slightly salty bite, and the fresh slices of fennel give the pizza a fresh crunch.  In bypassing red sauce all together, the gentle taste of the toppings really have a chance to stand out against the mellow flavor of the garlic and olive oil base.  Authentic?  I have no idea.  But delicious?  Definitely.

Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Fennel, and Spinach

pizza dough for 1 pizza

2 cloves of garlic, minced and then smashed into a paste with a pinch of salt

fresh ground pepper

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil

6 ounces Italian chicken sausage

1/2 bulb of fennel, sliced into thin ribs

8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese

4 ounces chopped fresh spinach

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F, or as high as your oven will go.  Set an oven rack on the lowest level or second lowest level (the heat zones of every oven are different, so, to exercise caution, start with baking your first pizza on the second lowest level of your oven then, if your pizza does not get sufficiently crisped on the bottom, you’ll know to move your oven rack one level lower the next time you bake pizza), and place a heavy baking sheet on the rack to preheat along with the oven.

In a very small bowl, combine smashed garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and set aside.

Slice chicken sausage into small coins or, if you are using bulk chicken sausage, break it up into small, nickel-sized pieces. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium pan and briefly cook chicken sausage in oil until sausage just begins to brown slightly.  Remove from heat and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, using your hands, shape pizza dough into a 14-inch round.  The more you handle the dough, the more the heat of your hands will warm the dough and make it more pliable.

Place the shaped dough on a piece of parchment paper.  Place parchment paper and dough on a rimless baking sheet or a rimmed baking sheet that has been overturned.

Spoon garlic and olive oil mixture over the surface of the pizza dough.  Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to taste.  Top with cheese, then add the sliced fennel and browned sausage.

Slide the uncooked pizza, still on the parchment paper, from the rimless baking sheet to the preheated baking sheet in the oven. Bake pizza for 8 to 12 minutes, until the crust is puffed and browned at the edges and the cheese has melted and just started to turn slightly brown in places.

Remove pizza from oven and sprinkle with chopped spinach.  The spinach will wilt ever so slightly.

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