Garnish with blue cheese or Parmesan for an early springtime starter
We could be fancy and call this insalata di finocchio e pere. But it tastes just as good in English.
The subtle anise flavor of fennel plays well with the crisp sweetness of pears. Add a garnish of blue cheese (we favor Gorgonzola) or maybe Parmigiano Reggiano, and you’ve got a springtime starter that will awaken your taste buds from their long winter’s nap.
So yeah, we love finocchio (no Pinocchios).
Recipe: Fennel and Pear Salad
Which variety of pear to use for this salad? In the springtime, Bosc pears work well (and their firm texture is great for salads). At other times of the year, just use whatever variety is in season and looks good.
We generally prepare the fennel a few hours before serving this salad, and often mix the vinaigrette ahead of time, too. The pears, though, we peel and slice right before serving so they don’t discolor (see Notes).
Total prep and assembly time for this dish is about 15 minutes.
This recipe serves 4 as a first course.
For the vinaigrette:
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar (balsamic vinegar makes a nice substitute)
- a couple of pinches of kosher salt (to taste; no more than ¼ teaspoon – see Notes)
- a few grinds of black pepper (4 to 6 for us)
- ½ teaspoon honey or maple syrup (optional, and to taste; skip this if using balsamic vinegar)
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb (about 1 pound)
- 2 to 3 pears
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 to 2 ounces blue cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish
- Prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk the lemon juice (or vinegar) with the salt, pepper, and honey or maple syrup. Then drizzle in the olive oil, whisking to form an emulsion. (You can prepare the vinaigrette ahead of time, then place it in a small covered container and refrigerate it. Shake the container before using to reform the emulsion.)
- Prepare the fennel: Rinse the fennel and remove its stalk and green top. Using a sharp knife (or vegetable peeler), slice off the root end of the fennel bulb. Cut the fennel bulb in half, then cut the halves into very thin slices. Set aside. (If preparing the fennel ahead of time, place it in a covered container and refrigerate.)
- When ready to assemble the salad, place the sliced fennel in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Wash the pears, peel them, then cut them into quarters. Cut away the woody core. Cut the pear quarters into thin slices (or match sticks, if you prefer). Add the pear slices to the mixing bowl.
- Wash and dry the parsley, then chop it roughly. Add the chopped parsley to the bowl.
Add the vinaigrette, then mix the ingredients together thoroughly. Taste, then adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Divide the salad among individual serving plates. Cut or crumble the cheese into chunks, then scatter the chunks over the salad plates. Serve and enjoy.
- Want additional garnish? Try toasted walnuts. Toast about two of ounces of walnut pieces in a dry frying pan over medium-low stovetop heat for a few minutes until they’re fragrant. Cool the walnuts, then scatter them over the salads before serving.
- You could probably use some of the green fennel fronds for garnish, too.
- We think the dressing for this salad benefits from a hint of sweetness, which is why we recommend using honey or maple syrup. But balsamic vinegar is already sweet, so if you’re using that instead of white wine vinegar or lemon juice, just omit the sweetener.
- Use good-quality extra-virgin olive oil in the vinaigrette. Better-quality olive oil really does make a difference.
- Once you cut into pears, they begin to oxidize and turn brown. That’s why we slice them right before serving. If you want to slice the pears ahead of time, store them in a solution of 50% water and 50% lemon juice or vinegar to slow down oxidation.
- Pears typically are picked when they’re mature, but not fully ripe. They ripen at room temperature though, so the ones you find at your supermarket may already have reached peak ripeness by the time you buy them. Ask the produce people if you need help selecting ripe pears.
- Most supermarkets stock several varieties of pears. Bartlett pears are probably the most common (their peak season is from September through January or February). Anjou pears are in season from September through May. Bosc pear season runs from September through April.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger, so they pack a measure less densely). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Great salad!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Fenouil et poire.”
“So now it’s French?” I said.
“Sounds more elegant,” said Mrs K R. “And with their looks, fennel and pear could use some chic.”
“I guess their figures are a bit bulbous,” I said.
“Ironic for such healthy foods,” said Mrs K R.
“They won’t make me go pear shaped!” I said.
“True,” said Mrs K R. “It’s all the other food that did that.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Fennel, Orange, and Arugula Salad
Shaved Fennel Salad
Italian Celery and Mushroom Salad
Spinach Salad with Parmesan
Hungarian Cucumber Salad
Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad
Or check out the index for more