“This was right around the time that arugula was discovered, which was followed by endive, which was followed by radicchio, which was followed by frisée, which was followed by the three M's -- mesclun, mâche, and microgreens -- and that, in a nutshell, is the history of the past forty years from the point of view of lettuce. ” – Nora Ephron
A Short History of Lettuce
Not long ago, in an age before the internets, many of us in America were also living in the dark ages of iceberg lettuce. Fortunately, our palates have evolved and Whole Foods arrived to set us straight (though whether or not that development is fortunate is still debatable). Regardless, I will take this moment to declare my earnest love of arugula. It grows wild outside of our home in Naples, and while I am there, no meal is complete without a simple arugula salad. I don’t mean to get all Go Ask Alice Waters on you. Even if I did not have access to wild arugula, I would happily purchase it from the local grocery, and hence this recipe.
This is not so much a recipe as it is a guideline for making a light, refreshing winter salad. Fennel and arugula are two of my favorite winter ingredients and I enjoy how well they pair together. Fennel is slightly sweet and anise like in flavor and arugula is peppery. Together they are a natural pairing.
I generally serve this salad after dinner. Yes, I have become an accidental Francophile, a miracle considering my spectacularly ambivalent opinion of Grenoble. If you have served a roast or an osso buco, both lustily heavy dishes, serve this salad after dinner. It is a classic palate cleanser and will bridge into a final dessert course if you plan to serve something sweet.
Giuseppe and I often just eat it plain and raw after dinner. In fact as a child, Giuseppe almost exclusively ate fennel raw and as a fruit. I like shaving it into salads such as this one. It is a natural breath freshener and given the amount of garlic we eat in our Neapolitan household, that is likely a good thing. If you crave a little something after dinner and prefer not to eat a traditional sweet, then we heartily suggest raw fennel. It is both satiating and refreshing. I hope to share additional fennel recipes as winter progresses, but in the meantime enjoy this light salad as a meal, as a side dish or a palate cleanser. Viva Roquette!
Serves 6 as contorno
1 Tablespoon Banyuls vinegar (or other red wine vinegar, but Banylus is amazing and you should find it soonest!)
Juice from half a lemon
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, shaved (you can use a mandolin or cut the fennel very thinly with a sharp knife)
6 oz arugula
1 oz Piave cheese thinly sliced in triangles (if you can’t find Piave use Parmesan or Grana Padano)
3 grape tomatoes sliced in half (optional)
Sea salt (Maldon is best if you live in the States)
In small mixing bowl combine vinegar and lemon juice.
Slowly add the olive oil, whisking constantly into the vinegar/ lemon mixture (this will allow the olive oil and vinegar to emulsify and combine more seamlessly).
In a large serving bowl or platter toss the arugula and fennel with the vinaigrette.
Garnish salad with piave cheese slices and tomatoes.
Sprinkle salad with sea salt and cracked pepper to taste.
Serve with toasted baguette slices.