This is a great first course or light lunch year-round. Right now, arugula and fennel are local, and they grow locally well into the fall. Part of the occasion for this salad is the beautiful wedge of parmigiano my mom brought back from Italy last month.
One of my dinner guests asked me if there’s really a difference between the cheese we bring back from Parma and the imported Parmesan we buy in stores here in this country. The answer is truly one of degree. I feel the cheese my mom brought back in her suitcase is slightly nuttier and fresher-tasting than the cheese I buy in my local gourmet market–or maybe it’s just in my mind. Needless to say, any good parmigiano works well on this salad.
The crucial aspect of this salad is that the fennel be thinly shaved (on a mandoline slicer) and the cheese be thinly shaved in shards (with a vegetable peeler). This way the contrast of the nutty rich cheese is optimally juxtaposed against the bright crisp fennel.
The dressing is simply lemon and olive oil–but it must be on the lemony side–it needn’t be excessively oily, since the richness will come from the parmigiano. Make and eat only at the last minute–arugula will wilt instantly.
Tonight, along with our salad, I made a fresh tomato sauce which consisted of nothing other than some fresh summer tomatoes (a mixture of cherry tomatoes and plum tomatoes from Beppi’s garden, pureed in the blender, along with some olive oil and a sprig of basil.
As the sauce began to simmer, I browned a batch of turkey meatballs and dropped them in for 15 minutes.
After the meatballs were done, I used the bit of remaining sauce to dress some irresistible fresh egg pappardelle. Note: it takes only about a cup of sauce, along with some pasta cooking water, to properly dress a pound of pasta.
Salad of Arugula, Fennel and Parmigiano
serves 4 – 5
3 medium bunches of arugula (approximately 1 lb)
1 plump bulb of fennel
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
Remove stalk and outer layer of fennel bulbs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove triangular core from each half.
Place arugula in mixing bowl. With a mandoline slicer, shave fennel over arugula.
Squeeze lemon over the salad. Drizzle oil, then sprinkle on a half-teaspoon of salt. Toss and taste–add more salt if necessary but not too much–the parmigiano will add saltiness to the salad.
Mound on serving plates and shave cheese over the top. Grind fresh black pepper over all and serve immediately.