September 29, 2011

hello, apples

Hey, everyone. Let's get back to it. Travel photos are nice and all, but we have been doing a lot of cooking since we got back to our own kitchen, and I have been meaning to post more recipes here. So this is me, hopping to it. 

I'm not ready for summer to end (exhibit A: 10 pounds of tomatoes sitting on the counter top, ready to be made into tomato sauce for freezing), but the thing that makes it mostly okay is that apples are here. Wait, let me rephrase that: Apples! Are! Here! On Sunday night we made our first apple pie of fall 2011, with a whopping 4 pounds of Gravenstein apples from Sebastopol. Our crisper is full of Honeycrisps for snacking out of hand. And last night I made my favorite apple-based salad, inspired by a salad we tried at Otto in New York last year. My sister ordered it and we -- Lynh, Mark, our friend Jyoti, and me -- all went crazy for it. And considering that we also ate things like hazelnut gelato and handmade pasta during that meal, that is saying a lot. It was so tasty that I continued to make a version of it all throughout the fall and winter. Think thin, crunchy ribbons of fennel, slices of crisp and sweet apple, and a bright vinaigrette.

Otto, NYC

We sometimes make a busier version of this salad, with mixed greens, fennel, pear, walnuts and blue cheese. That salad is very good, too. It's a classic, in fact. But it's also nice to pare things down and have a 2 ingredient side salad in your back pocket. I mean, it's not entirely devoid of futzing -- if you want translucent fennel ribbons, you almost have to pull out your mandoline -- but I usually use my trusty chef's knife.

Last night, our friend Jyoti came over with a bottle of red and we ate this salad, Melissa Clark's spiced chicken/barley/sweet potato/spinach soup and cheese toasts on flax seed bread. Truth be told, it was a little warm to be eating soup, as good as it was. But we had all the windows wide open, and music on, and we were just happy to be sharing meals with Jyoti again. The last time we ate this salad together was our reunion in NYC last fall. And now, instead of having to plan cross-country flights between here and Boston to see each other, I can send her an email and ask her to drop by for dinner that night. Because she finished law school and officially lives and works 3 miles away! Thank you, life. And thank you, Mario Batali, for teaching me about fennel and apple salad.   

 Fennel/apple salad

You can easily gussy this up with garnishes: fennel fronds, chopped flat leaf parsley, or toasted walnuts. You an swap out the apple for pear. You can add minced shallot to the vinaigrette, or a drizzle of honey. You can add crumbles of blue cheese, if you're so inclined, or mound it on a bed of arugula.

Make ahead: The apples will brown a little if you let the salad sit too long before serving. Instead, toss the fennel in the vinaigrette and store in the refrigerator 1-2 hours ahead of time. Just before serving, slice the apple and add to the salad. 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
sea salt and ground black pepper
1 large fennel bulb, cored/trimmed and thinly sliced
1 small crisp apple, whatever kind you like, cored/trimmed and thinly sliced
optional garnishes: see above

In a large bowl, dissolve a pinch of sea salt in the vinegar or lemon juice. Whisk in the olive oil and finish with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Add the slices of fennel and apple and toss well. I like this salad a little chilled, so I let it sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving.