My mother is always accusing me of being “not Italian enough”. When I was younger it was because I didn’t like marinara sauce, but lately it’s been due to the fact that I refuse to chomp on raw fennel with her after every meal. She recently discovered that in Italy, fennel is used as a palate cleanser in between courses, so now she and two of my aunts fight over who gets the honor of bringing the bulbs to holiday dinners. Then, when it seems like the main meal is just about to close, they chop that fennel up and just about attempt to force it down everyone’s throats.
This is generally where I try to make a run for it. Take over clearing-off-the-table duty, absent myself from the vicinity, etc. I just can’t handle the texture and flavor of raw fennel. It’s so, for lack of a better word, stalk-like.
However, cooking it is a total game-changer.Cooked fennel can’t help but caramelize from all of its natural sugars, turning it into a sweet savory pan of something truly delicious. This salad really capitalizes on those flavors by pairing them with earthy quinoa, tangy pomegranate arils and a lemon-y vinaigrette. Served over spinach, it makes for a satisfying lunch and is a great way to convince your mother that there is some Italian in you after all.
Serves 4, adapted from Bon Appetit January 2012
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium fennel bulbs, cut lengthwise into 1/4″-thick slices
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp meyer lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sugar
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tsp chopped fresh dill
seeds from 1 pomegranate
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fennel; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fennel is just tender and lightly golden, 10-12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, cumin, and sugar; cook for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring quinoa and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is cooked, about 10 minutes. Drain; return to pan. Cover; let sit for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork; transfer to a large bowl.
- Add vinegar, fennel mixture, chile, herbs, and pomegranate seeds to quinoa. Toss gently to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper. Serve salad on top of a bed of baby spinach.
Photos: Joanne Bruno
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