This crisp fennel salad with olives possesses the perfect balance of flavors, and it looks as pretty as it tastes. It’s an interesting one for me, because I don’t especially like green olives! And yet here, alongside crunchy, aromatic fennel, bright citrus, and flavorful, salty cheese, they’re faultless.
Although it’s at its very best freshly dressed, it also packs pretty well for a summer picnic, or with dressing separate, for a camping trip. I’ll usually eat this as the main course, but a little protein on the side doesn’t go awry.
Ingredients Serves about 3 as a main or 5-6 as a side dish.
- 2 large fennel bulbs with fronds (get 3-4 if they’re smaller than an orange)
- 1 cup castelvetrano olives
- about 1 tsp fresh orange zest (from about 1 medium orange)
- 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar (I have also used rice vinegar)
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 ounces (85g) Pecorino Romano cheese
For the dressing:
Wash and dry the citrus. Zest the orange to get about 1 tsp of zest, lightly packed in. Zest part of the lemon to get about 1/4 tsp of zest. Add both to a small bowl. The bald orange can now be put away in the fridge for a snack later, but keep the lemon handy. Add to the bowl the olive oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes, several big grinds of black pepper, and 1/4 tsp salt and whisk together thoroughly. Set aside.
For the salad:
I like to cut the green fronds off of the fennel bulb before washing them each separately. Peel off any tough, thick, brownish looking outer leaves from the bulbs and then wash them, and throw all the fronds into a colander to wash that way. Keep the fronds aside for now. If the bulbs are very large, cut them in half lengthwise, then use a mandoline or knife to thinly slice them (an 1/8th inch thinner). I like to start slicing at the top and go until I hit the hard piece at the bottom, so that they stay together while I’m slicing them. The last little bit at the base of the bulb can be discarded. Throw all the sliced fennel in a large bowl.
If your olives have pits, smash them with the flat of a chef’s knife or a meat tenderizer and then pull out the pits. If already pitted, tear roughly in half with your hands to get those nice craggy edges. Either way, chop coarsely and add to the bowl with the fennel. Grab a handful of the fennel fronds and chop until you have about a cup, and add that to the bowl too. Juice the whole lemon over the fennel mixture and toss to coat evenly.
If using a mandoline, switch to a finer blade to shave the cheese, or if using a knife, just slice it as thinly as you possibly can. Cut the slices into bite-sized pieces, if necessary. It’s easier to measure the weight as you shave, rather than cutting a chunk to weigh before you start shaving (to avoid winding up with a thick final slice that you can’t really cut).
Serving and storing:
Keep the dressing, fennel mixture, and cheese separate until ready to serve, then toss it all together, and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Leftovers will keep for a couple days in the fridge in an airtight container.