Autumn Salad with Roasted Fennel and Crispy Shallots

Around this time of year I love the smell of fennel when it’s roasting.  The scent seems to warm the entire kitchen.  I offered to take a salad to a friend’s house who invited us for dinner, and I decided to make this salad.  We’re spending a few days in North Carolina; the colors of the season and chilly weather inspired me!

Using mixed field greens and baby romaine as a base, I added roasted fennel, crispy shallots, toasted walnuts, and yellow bell pepper topped with a balsamic and fig dressing.  Sometimes there are great pre-washed packaged options for lettuces, but don’t choose anything that has a strong flavor, like arugula, for example.  I liked the neutrality of the field greens and baby romaine to not take the spotlight off the fennel and shallots.

Salads are very flexible and simple.  You can add heirloom tomatoes, roasted butternut squash or instead of walnuts, try pecans for example. Or if you have some day old crusty bread you don’t want to throw out, try making homemade croutons (see notes for instructions).  Be creative!

I hope you’re inspired to try this salad for your holiday feasts. The flavors are out of this world!  Sweet, savory, and perfect for Autumn. Your guests will not be disappointed!

Makes 6-8 servings


Ingredients:

  • Mixed field greens (see notes for quantity)
  • Baby romaine lettuce (see notes for quantity)
  • 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp fig jam
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oven to 400º.
  2. Wash and dry the fennel.  Cut off the tops and the base.  Slice in thin rounds (1/4″ thick) and place in a small bowl.  Add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Place it on a roasting pan that has been lined with parchment paper or brushed with oil to prevent sticking.  Roast for about 35-40 minutes or until the edges are browned.  Stir once during roasting.
  3. Meanwhile, wash and dry all other produce.  Dice the shallots very small, but not minced.  Dice about 1/2 of the yellow pepper, depending on it’s size; if it’s small, dice up the entire pepper, if it’s huge, use about 1/2.
  4. Heat a small shallow pan on medium/high heat with about 1 tsp of olive oil.  Add the shallots.  Stirring occasionally, watch for when they start to crisp and brown.  At this point add the walnuts and stir until they are toasty, add a pinch of salt and a little fresh ground pepper…if you feel the shallots are browning too much, lower the heat slightly and continue to move them around.   You don’t want burned shallots.  Have a dish ready that is lined with paper towel.  Place the shallots and walnuts on the paper towel to absorb the oil.
  5. I like to chop my lettuce so it is bite size, but not too small either.  There is nothing worse than having a dinner party where your guests are struggling to put giant pieces of lettuce into their mouths!  Once you’ve chopped your lettuce, add it to a large salad bowl; make sure it’s completely dry, pat with paper towel if necessary.  You don’t want any water in there.
  6. Once the fennel is done roasting and cooled, dice it as well.  Not too small…about the same size that you diced the pepper.  I like to dice these ingredients, so they are incorporated into the salad.  That way everyone gets a good amount of all these wonderful flavors!
  7. Make the dressing by combining 4 Tbsp olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fig. Sprinkle salt and pepper over your lettuce and drizzle the dressing, one tablespoon at a time until you’re satisfied with it; you can add more or less depending on your taste.  You can also increase the amount of vinegar or fig.  Toss it to combine, then add in the fennel, yellow pepper, shallots and walnuts.  Add tomatoes or any other yummy Autumn flavors you thought of!  Give it one more toss and serve immediately.  You can prepare the salad ahead and keep it refrigerated, but don’t add the dressing until ready to serve.


Notes:

When deciding how much salad to prepare, I count about 1 1/2 good sized handfuls per person.  If I’m having a large group, I always reserve extra lettuce and toppings in a zippered bag in the fridge and prepare extra dressing in case I need to refill the salad bowl.  I’ve had parties where I’ve had to do this; if your guests have enough from one bowl, save the extra for tomorrow’s lunch.  Just remember not to add the dressing until it’s served.

To make home made croutons, cut day old (or two day old) bread in 1- 1 1/2″ cubes.  Place them in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  You can also add a little garlic powder and some dried or fresh minced parsley to season.  Place on a cookie sheet or sheet pan lined with parchment paper in a preheated oven.  Bake at  375º  for about 20 minutes or so, until they are crisped and the edges are slightly browned.  Set a timer for 10 minutes and begin checking them at that time. Move them around with a spatula and continue cooking.  If you have a toaster oven, you will be tempted to toast them.  This doesn’t work because the tops will be toasted, but the bottoms will be soft.  Baking them works better…I speak from experience, hahaha!

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