This past weekend, we took the boys apple-picking. As I’ve mentioned after our berry picking excursions, the boys are highly skilled fruit pickers. The looks of concentration on their faces, as they go about their work, is priceless. And we always end up with far more fruit than we needed.
Such was the case this past weekend. The boys moved through the aisles of apple trees with focused eyes and hands, proudly filling their bags with ripe McIntosh and Cortland apples, until the bags were too heavy to be carried. We brought home at least a peck per picker. In layman’s terms, that’s a boat-load of apples. **Author’s note: The more accurate descriptor of our quantity of apples is a poop-load, but it struck me as unappealing to use the word poop in a blog about food. Oh drats, it seems that I wrote it anyway.
Well, when you’ve got a poop-load of freshly-picked apples sitting around, you need to start thinking creatively. Of course, I could bake more apple crisp, but since I gorged myself with it again last night (after consuming a massive BLT) I think it’s better for my waistline that I refrain from baking any more. Apple pie would, of course, be delicious. But, then I’d face the same self-control problem I’m having with the apple crisp in my fridge. So, thinking on the lighter side, I decided to incorporate some of the fresh, crisp apples into a salad with a bit of thinly shaved fennel and a white balsamic vinaigrette.
Fennel conjures up strong images of Thanksgiving at my Italian Grammy’s house. Thanksgiving at my Grammy’s house is a marathon of eating, which challenges even my expert ability to overeat. It starts with an antipasto platter; layers of rolled meats and cheese, adorned with spicy peppers, marinated mushrooms and artichokes, and black olives, dressed in a spicy, tangy vinaigrette. Following the antipasto, we sit down at the table for fruit salad. Then, the pasta course comes out; typically a lasagna, baked ziti, or stuffed shells with garlic bread. And then, after all of that meat and cheese and fruit and pasta and the occasional stolen dessert cookie; then we sit down for a traditional Thanksgiving meal; turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, creamed onions, green beans, cranberry sauce, and rolls. After which, there is dessert, of course; usually a selection of pies, cookies, cheesecakes, and trifle. It’s quite the feast.
So, where’s the fennel come in? Well, before the feast begins, there are nuts, olives, and fennel. As a child, the presence of this strange, celery-looking, licorice-tasting vegetable alongside the olives always confused me. Even more confusing was that my Italian family members pronounced it in a way which sounded like FUH-nook. But then again, I was also taught to pronounce ricotta like Rrrr-GOAT (don’t forget to roll your r’s) and mozzarella like Mootz-a-REL.
In my mind, fennel equals Thanksgiving at Grammy’s. I’ve never actually used fennel in any of my own recipes, but I was inspired recently by a salad which was featured in my grocery store’s seasonal magazine. Their salad blended fennel with oranges and onions over spinach in a vinaigrette. I’m taking inspiration from the apples in making my own twist on a fennel salad, using a light, crisp white balsamic vinegar in my dressing. If you can’t find white balsamic, you can easily substitute regular balsamic. The tastes are similar. The addition of walnuts and applewood smoked bacon to the salad add a wonderful complement in flavors and a perfect bit of crunch.
Shaved Apple and Fennel Salad
- 2 Apples
- 1 Fennel Bulb
- 6 cups Spinach
- 1/2 cup Walnuts, chopped
- 6 Slices Bacon, cooked and crumbled*
For the Dressing
- 1/4 cup White Balsamic Vinegar
- 1/3 cup Olive Oil
- 1 Tbsp Honey
- 1 tsp Mustard
- Salt and Pepper
*Use applewood smoked bacon, if available.
Cut the apples in half and remove the core. Cut the fennel bulb in half. Using a mandoline slicer, very thinly slice the apples and fennel bulb. If you don’t have a mandoline, use a knife to slice the apples and fennel as paper-thin as possible. Make the dressing by whisking together all ingredients. Toss the spinach in a small amount of dressing. Divide the spinach onto four plates. Toss the apples and fennel in a small amount of dressing. Place a mound of the dressed apples and fennel on top of the spinach. Top with walnuts and crumbled bacon.