One of my all time favorite winter salads is fennel with oranges. The combination of crisp, crunchy slices of fennel paired with citrusy, sunny oranges is something I can eat almost every day for lunch. And I do. It brightens up the darkest of winter afternoons.
The great thing is that both fennel and oranges keep pretty well in the fridge, so I can stock up on the weekend, and be fairly sure to have the ingredients to hand come last minute lunch times during the week.
But a few days ago after I had laid out my fennel all pretty on my plate, I reached into the fruit drawer and – horrors – no oranges! It’s not like I was going to die or anything. I realize it wasn’t really a tragedy. But in my mind I was already digging into my sweet/tart salad and plain old olive oil dressed fennel just wasn’t going to cut it.
Then I remembered our Meyer lemon tree. I wait for this time of year anxiously, because when our precious tree starts to fruit, I try to work them into almost everything.
I’m only a recent convert to Meyer lemons, since you can’t really buy them in Italy. I had read all about them in cooking magazines for years, but was never anywhere in the States during the right season to get my hand on some. So I was super happy when Domenico came home a few years ago with one precious tree bought at a nursery outside of Pisa.
What do I love about Meyer lemons? They are tart, like a lemon, but not mouth puckeringly so. They have a floral edge that rounds out the sourness, and makes the juice perfect for mixing into salads, cocktails and just about anything else I can think of.
Oddly enough, though, I had never thought of actually eating the flesh. Until the great orange tragedy of the other day.
So I continued to build up my salad using big fat slices of Meyer lemon in place of the oranges. I topped them with a few black olives, a drizzle of olio nuovo and some cracked pepper and sea salt.
fennel and meyer lemon salad
(serves 1 as main course, or 1 as side)
1 big bulb fennel
1 Meyer lemon
6 black olives, pitted
freshly cracked black pepper
Take off the outer layers of the fennel bulb and cut it through the middle, cutting through the root end. Slice into very thin slices, lengthwise. Arrange on serving plate.
Using a very sharp knife, cut the top and bottom off of the lemon, Then, using the knife, carefully trim away the peel, making sure you trim away all the white pith, which can be very bitter. Cut the flesh into half inch slices, and then into chunks, removing the seeds and any central pith. Toss on top of the fennel, with any of the juices from the cutting board.
Drizzle liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper, toss and enjoy.