2.20.2012

Fennel and citrus salad and a new book by Beatrice Peltre



Putting chocolate behind us, (hey! Valentine’s day was just last week, did you forget already?) I’m looking forward to some serious palate cleansing. I’ve had this salad on my mind for weeks, and now that citrus season is in full swing, I finally got around to making it.

My craving for this salad was brought to a head during a recent book signing I attended for La Tartine Gourmande, the new book by beloved blogger Béatrice Peltre. I have been fortunate to get to know Béa a little—we both write for the Boston Globe and also share a favorite local woodsy walking place. Let me tell you, she is as lovely as her gorgeous, colorful photographs. In fact, if you are a blogger and an aspiring food photographer, you must add this book to your library. I literally lay awake most of the night after I brought the book home. Looking at the light-filled, drool-worthy pictures of her food, I was in turn acutely excited and inspired and then suicidally discouraged as a would-be photographer. No, I am not bi-polar, but that’s what happens when something really exhilarating comes along.




Béatrice Peltre has a Matisse-like sense of color and pattern that make you happy just looking at her photos. Her recipes are original, healthy, and reliable. In short: they work! They are imaginative! She brings her French sensibility to her recipes and a distinctive individuality to her style. You will certainly find many things you will want to cook to lift your spirits inside the cover. And even if you never cook anything from her book (which would be a terrible waste) you will certainly be cheered by the summery brightness on every page. One of the best ways to learn photography is to really study (and perhaps even copy as an exercise) photos you like. You can find her book here.

The salad in Béatrice’s book inspired the one I made (you will have to go to her book for her version). I purposely did not read her recipe closely, to avoid leaning too heavily on her idea. I know that it did not have fennel. But there is not much latitude here—fennel and oranges are a classic combination.



Fennel, like cilantro, is one of those flavors that arouse strong love-hate feelings. When it comes to the delicious crispy licorice-ness of this winter vegetable, I say: Bring it! I love it raw doused with a bit of olive oil and lemon, or baked in a tian with white wine, Parmesan and bread crumbs. Perhaps because it is underappreciated in this country, it seems exotic and therefore elegant; but it is quite common in Mediterranean cooking. Don’t be a hater.

Choose bulbs that are pale green and firm, with stalks and fronds still attached. Pass on split, yellowed, or spotty bulbs. The sometimes-tough outer layer, as well as minor brown spots, can be peeled easily with a vegetable peeler. Save a few of the feathery fronds to decorate your salad.

Fennel and citrus salad with citrus vinaigrette
Serves 2 to 3

This salad has perky winter flavors: fruit that is all at once sweet, juicy and tart, paired with crisp anise-scented fennel and crunchy radishes. First, prepare the fruit and set it aside. Save the juices to make the vinaigrette; then make the vinaigrette. Finally assemble the salad. It makes an ideal accompaniment to any plain fish dish, like Ken Rivard’s and Jody Adams’ broiled whole fish, for example.

For the vinaigrette:
Makes 2/3 cups dressing (save extra for another green salad)

1/4 cup citrus juice
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil

Whisk the citrus juice, lime juice, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper together. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if you like.

For the salad:
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed (save a few fronds, freeze the stalks for making fish stock)
2 oranges, rind removed with a knife (see below), and cut crosswise into circles
2 blood oranges, rind removed with a knife (see below), and cut crosswise into circles
2 grapefruits, rind removed with a knife (see below), and cut into “supremes”
5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 handful of Italian parsley, leaves picked from the stems
Fennel fronds
Citrus vinaigrette
Salt and pepper, to taste
1  1/2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1. Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife and a lot of patience to slice the fennel very thinly. Cut out the core as you slice. Toss the fennel with 2 to 3 tablespoons of vinaigrette and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on 2 or 3 plates, or on one large plate.

2. Arrange the oranges and grapefruit over and around the fennel and top with the radishes. Sprinkle the parsley, fennel fronds, and pumpkin seeds over the salad. Drizzle with more vinaigrette and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

How to peel citrus with a knife to make "supremes"

The first time I realized there was another way to peel citrus I was so excited! No more pesky pith to ruin the look (and taste) of the fruit sections, or 'supremes'.










First, cut off the top and bottom of the fruit to expose the flesh.





Use a sawing motion with a sharp knife to cut away the rind and pith. Curve your knife as you go from top to bottom. Trim off any places you missed once you have gone all the way around the fruit. Cut it crosswise to make circles, or proceed to make 'supremes'.




Cut alongside each membrane to extract the section.






Another way to cut: after you cut along one side of a section, flip your knife angle and cut along the other side from the bottom up (this will go faster once you get the hang of it.)




Don't forget to squeeze all the juice from the 'carcass'. Use some of it for the citrus vinaigrette




15 comments:

  1. wow, how can I resist this vibrant dish. Gorgeous.

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    1. Thanks Jennifer, It sure does one good to see bright colors in February, I mean, eat bright colors.

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  2. How strange! (Or maybe not, given the recent publication of Bea's book). We had this salad Saturday night at a dinner party. Delicious--and delicious photographs! (Yours ;-)) Ken

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    1. Life is strange, and thanks. And I started making those chick pea cakes from your blog. I may not even go as far as the cakes--the chick peas are incredible, simmering in all that spicy goodness. As the sauce reduces it just gets better. Maybe we'll just eat as is.

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  3. Love the combination of fennel and citrus and I also love the gorgeous colours in your pictures! I already wanted Bea's book and after this post, I want it even more;)

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    1. Denise, You will not be disappointed in the least!

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  4. We love fennel and grow citrus trees in our yard, so this is a salad that is on my list to make and blog too! Like you said, Sally, I won't read your recipe too close so I can do my version too! Fennel fresh and raw, fennel baked in a gratin (did that recently oh yum), and wild fennel pollen as an herb. Thanks as always for a lovely post. Such pretty colors. I know people will be helped by your shots on how to supreme citrus.

    I met Bea years ago in a food photography class taught by Denise Vivaldo in Hollywood. She is as you said, lovely and also very talented.

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    1. Sally, Thanks, hope it is helpful. Yes, Bea is as talented as she is lovely....

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  5. Gorgeous shot of the salad! And what a scrumptious recipe.

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    1. Russell, I hope you make it--definitely a healthy way to experience citrus season.

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  6. I love the colors...bursting with life! Makes the salad more appetizing. I am following this recipe for dinner, to the dot. I can't think of any prettier way to present it, beautifully done!

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    1. Thanks. It fits in with my eating plan, too!

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  7. This salad is gorgeous, like your pictures. And the step by step photos for segmenting a grapefruit are really helpful. I always seem to have a problem whenever I segment an orange or grapefruit. I usually end up squeezing most of the juice out of the grapefruit and ending up with irregular pieces of flesh. I'm guessing that it's not cutting properly because my knife is really dull...? Any suggestions?

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    1. Kyleen, I think I should post something about knives sooner rather than later. I am sure that the sharpness (or lack of it) is the problem. You shouldn't need to squeeze the fruit at all, just hold it lightly in your hand and let the knife do the work.

      If there is a restaurant supply store or a store that sells high-end consumer cooking equipment, you might find someone who will be able to sharpen your knives. (In the summer, there is even a person who travels around to farmers' markets and will sharpen your knives while you wait.) Once they are sharp, you can keep your knives sharp with a steel. I cannot stress how much more enjoyable cooking will be for you if you use sharp knives. BTW, if you can get a copy of Kathleen Flinn's cookbook Kitchen Counter Cooking School (go to library if you want to look at it) you will find a lot of information in there, including knife information. It's in a very readable, fun format--an engaging look at how most people cook and why they get discouraged (and also, what they can do about it.) I would hazard that the majority of people who cook at home do not have decent, sharp knives--but you don't really need more than 3 or 4 knives for a good set-up--well worth investing!

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  8. This salad looks really delicious!

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