Last week, I took a day trip to Cremona, Italy. Cremona is famous for being the birth place of the violin. As we found out, it seems Cremona is also famous for their food: Risotto, in particular. In a future post, I will be sharing a recipe for a risotto inspired by one of the dishes we tried in Cremona. BUT for today, I wanted to share a quick and easy side dish idea, especially perfect for when the weather warms up a bit.
While in Cremona, we dined at a beautiful restaurant located in an old palace, called “Hostaria 700”. The ambiance was very unique. The restaurant was comprised of four separate rooms, each decorated in their own unique way. We sat in the “red room”, which is not what it sounds like – I promise! See the picture below.
As someone who enjoys healthy food and nutrition in general, I chose to enjoy a fillet steak, a glass of red wine, and a side of fennel and citrus salad. I was very intrigued by the fennel and citrus salad. I had never eaten anything like it before. Once the salad arrived to the table, I realized just how simple the side-dish was. It was made from two ingredients: shaved fennel and blood orange. This is a very Italian-like concept: simple dishes, GREAT quality ingredients.
If you aren’t familiar with fennel, it is a vegetable with a mild licorice taste and a crisp texture. If cut too thick, it can be very tough and fibrous. Fennel does well when shaved very thin, or when added to soups. See the picture below:
I recommend serving the salad raw, accompanied by a lean protein (like pork tenderloin or chicken).
Servings [4 large sides]
4 bulbs raw fennel
1 blood orange
2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Use either a mandolin or a vegetable peeler to shave the fennel. If you’re using a mandolin, adjust the mandolin to a very thin setting. Cut off the bottom of the fennel bulb. Cut the bulb into half and remove the core. Place the fennel bulb flat-side down and slide the fennel back and forth across the mandolin until each side is completed. If you are using a vegetable peeler, cut off the bottom of the fennel bulb, cut into quarters, and remove the core. Run the peeler length-wise down a cut side of each quarter. Continue until you cannot safely hold each quarter anymore.
Transfer the shaved fennel to a large bowl. Next, cut the blood orange in half. Add the juice from one half of the orange to a small bowl. Cut the other half of the orange into very thin slices (this will be for garnish at the end). Set aside.
To the blood orange juice, add the olive oil, balsamic, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine.
Dress the shaved fennel with the orange dressing. Toss to coat.
Serve the dressed shaved fennel on a large plate. Garnish with thin slices of blood orange.
Season with additional EVOO, aged balsamic, and salt and pepper to taste.
If you prefer to try this dish as a warm side, very briefly sauté the shaved fennel in a large pan with extra virgin olive oil, stirring frequently (approximately 1-2 minutes). Then dress and top with blood orange slices as you would otherwise.
Looking for more healthy side dish ideas? Why don’t you try my recipes for German Red Cabbage Salad or Italian Farro Salad with Sundried Tomatoes, Basil, and Olives.