Fennel is one of those vegetables that people either love or hate. I happen to love its bright licorice flavor in all forms- raw, roasted, shaved, gratinéed. I really fell in love with it during my study abroad in Italy. In Rome, it was casually mixed into salads much like we toss carrots into mixed greens. In Sicily, it was most often paired with Sicilian oranges, briny olives, and local extra-virgin olive oil.
Oftentimes people think they do not like fennel until they have it in the right preparation. I have seen self-proclaimed fennel-haters gobble up the last bits of a caramelized fennel dish as roasting it mellows and sweetens its flavor. In this salad, I make the vegetable a little more approachable in a different way. I thinly slice it so that it can wilt in the citrus dressing and pair it with a popular spring vegetable- asparagus. I add crunchy sweet pear, nutty hazelnuts and salty Parmigiano-Reggiano to make this a salad that you will probably want to double or even triple, even if you are serving fennel-haters. It is so refreshing, so crisp, and so bright.
I recommend serving this salad within an hour or two after mixing as it will really begin to wilt. Right before serving, sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano, if using, and the hazelnuts so that they can retain a bit of their bite. The salad can sit longer, but it will continue to wilt and will not be quite as crunchy.
Asparagus, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Citrus Dressing
1/2 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed
1 small fennel bulb with fronds
1/2 firm pear, thinly sliced and then chopped (I used a firm Barlett pear)
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 orange, zested and juiced
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano (I used a vegetable peeler)
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned, and chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Prepare the vegetables. Use a vegetable peeler to thinly shave asparagus stalks. Set shavings aside and then finely chop remaining pieces, including tops. Thinly slice fennel bulb. Pluck off about 2 tablespoons of fennel fronds and roughly chop. Prepare pear and set aside.
Prepare the dressing. In a medium bowl, mix juice and zest from lemon and orange, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Whisk briefly to combine. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Add the vegetables to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. Readjust seasoning. Right before serving, sprinkle with Parmigiano-reggiano shavings and toasted hazelnuts. Best served shortly after assembling. Serves 4.
- Leave out cheese if making vegan. You may have to add a little more salt to make up for the difference.
- To toast and skin hazelnuts, toast in a dry skillet over low to medium low heat for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Use a towel to rub the hazelnuts together to remove their papery, bitter skins.
- Substitute walnuts or almonds for hazelnuts.
- Substitute a firm, crisp apple if you do not have a pear on hand.