The fennel/orange pairing is a noble one, and I relied on it last night for my little dinner party, especially given the presence of some spice in my side dishes. My fennel and orange salad offered a crisp, refreshing palate cleanser between tangy bites of marmalade/Dijon roasted chicken, potatoes with jalapenos and sauteed asparagus with chile garlic paste and sesame oil. This time, though, my fennel salad had a small surprise, a rose toned dressing derived from the gastrique-like reduction of cranberry juice and red wine vinegar. The thick, syrupy reduction adds a gorgeous depth to a salad that has its own sweet elements in the form of fresh orange morsels. I further emphasized the cranberry notes by simmering some dried cranberries in the gastrique and tossed them into the salad for some fun.
A gastrique is a reduction of wine, sugar and fruit into a thick syrup. I riffed on this theme by substituting juice and vinegar and letting this mixture boil down to its essence. After a brief cooling, I whisked in some Dijon mustard for bite, a little stream of extra-virgin olive oil, minced shallot, a pinch of poppy seeds and salt and pepper. The licorice-scent of fennel was the right foil for the tart lushness of plumped up dried cranberries adrift in the gastrique. Onward to the details:
Orange, Olive and Fennel Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette
Adapted from www.cookingbooks.com
1 large navel orange, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds; 1 large fennel bulb, cored, trimmed and thinly sliced (vertically); 1/2 cup brine-cured black olives; a few thin slices of Spanish onion; feathery fennel fronds can be used as a garnish.
Cranberry Vinaigrette: 1 cup cranberry juice; 1/4 cup red wine vinegar; 1/4 cup dried cranberries; 2 tablespoons finely minced shallots; 1/4 cup extra-virign olive oil; 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard; 1 tsp. poppy seeds; 1 tbsp. honey; salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the cranberry juice into a saucepan and add the wine vinegar, shallots and cranberries. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Take the gastrique off the heat and let cool. Whisk in olive oil, mustard, poppy seeds, honey and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Put the oranges, fennel and onion on a serving platter and sprinkle with the olives. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and garnish with chopped fennel fronds.
What does this salad go with? Fennel and orange salads are much admired and eaten in Italy, Morocco and the Middle East, a fresh, cool contrast to many foods from these regions. I especially like fennel and grilled fish, especially fish prepared with lemon and garlic. I picture the fennel salad also as a lovely addition to a meze table of assorted finger foods and dips, hummous, pita bread, dolmades, falafel, spinach pies, little lamb chops. It is great with roasted chicken and works wonders at settling down the burn of spicy food.
More cool, crisp salads to cleanse your palate are easily yours: