Summer of Salads: Shaved Fennel and Arugula

As a child, summer means lazy days of wandering, camp, sprinklers, playgrounds and park.

As a parent, summer means road trips, wet bathing suits, even less time alone and daydreams of September.

As a New Yorker, summer means steaming sidewalks, escaping to chilly movie theaters, constantly humming window air-conditioners, and hair that refuses to lay flat.

As a private chef in the Hamptons, summer means whipping up a quick meal or two and then stealing some time by the pink-canopied pool.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

If I have one more person give me a variation of, “lucky girl, a summer in the Hamptons on the beach”, I might throw a pie in their face. Which would be satisfying but a horrible waste of pie.

I experienced the long weekend in Amangansett recently, and it gave me a taste of what my summer is to look like: waking at 7, at the market by 7:30, breakfast constantly in the works as people rise anywhere between 8 and noon, some hungry for lunch at 1 while some are barely finishing coffee, four frantic market runs a day, cooking three separate meals for dinner, eating cuttings of things throughout the day and only sitting to eat for real after the kitchen is clean at 10pm.

I’m definitely not complaining. I don’t have the chops to work in a restaurant kitchen, and despite the panic of being the sole person responsible for whether 13 people like their meals or not (which gives me a rather constant furrowed brow), I’m loving adapting to this job and what it’s already doing to broaden my kitchen skills.

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I’m going to attempt to keep up a few series of summer recipes here while I’m cooking away. While my trusty, dusty DSLR will be with me, I doubt I’ll have the time, organization or brain capacity to use it much. Rather, Instagram will be my friend as I try to snap some somewhat-edible-looking images of the amazing things coming out of the kitchen. Oh, the kitchen with this view in the misty morning:

Not bad, huh? I’m preparing to utilize certain moments as self-centering: this view when the house is quiet and all are asleep, the sunshine on the top deck, a shot of tequila while I wait at a certain fish counter and the proprietor asks in a heavy brogue how things are going and how I’d like my fish cleaned (this man might be a saving angel for the next few weeks) in the middle of the long day.

I’ll be making tons of luncheon salads, bright soups and rich marinades to keep some variety and va-va-voom on the table. And {hopefully} getting to write about them on my days off.

This salad was narrated to my predecessor before he left, without specification. I let it evolve naturally, and it’s both refreshingly simple and rich in flavor – a bit of bite from the fennel bulb but sweetened and softened with good orange juice. I was psyched to hear a really positive response to it – as with any new job, tiny amounts of praise help tamper anything you’ve messed up in ignorance or over-thought.

Happy beginning of summer.

Let’s do this thing.

Fennel and Arugula Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large fennel bulb (sometimes written as Anise)
  • 1 bag of pre-washed arugula
  • orange juice (splurge on fresh-squeezed or as close as you can get it)
  • lemon juice (doesn’t have to be fresh, but why not?)
  • Parmesan cheese (brick, not grated)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • a large flake salt (kosher works)
  • freshly cracked pepper

Remove fronds and tough outer leaves of fennel bulb. Thinly slice the remains, slicing width-wise if needed before finely slicing into ribbons. Place in a (preferably) metal bowl. Fill with orange juice almost up to the top. Add at least 2 Tbsp of lemon juice. Taste. You should get mostly orange flavor but with a tart bite of lemon. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (the fennel will set well for a few hours).

Meanwhile, bring a small fry/saute pan to a medium heat. Add pine nuts, and toast (flipping now and then) until the oil just starts to come out and the pine nuts brown. Add 1 tsp olive oil and a nice pinch of flaky salt. Toast, constantly flipping, until pine nuts smell fragrant and are slightly crisp. Set aside to cool.

To assemble: divide arugula on four plates. Drain the juice from the fennel*. Pile equally on top of arugula. With a vegetable peeling, grate large pieces of Parmesan over each salad. Top with pine nuts and a healthy twist of black pepper.

*If you want to make a quick vinaigrette from the orange/lemon mixture, whisk it with some tart vinegar (like apple cider), good olive oil and any combination of basil, oregano, black pepper, fennel and salt. Drizzle on top. The salad also works with just a drizzle of balsamic and oil or a sweet vinaigrette.

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6 Comments

  1. Here in northern California, that would be a spring salad while oranges are still around and before it gets too hot to grow leafy things in the farm zones. I’m sure it is delicious, since I like arugula, fennel and citrus.

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