Monday, August 3, 2009

In Praise of Apple

Every Saturday morning, my friend Daphna and I meet at the farmers’ market and cruise around, picking out whatever looks or tastes especially good.  Every so often, Daphna will say, wistfully, “I can’t wait until they have apples here.”  The berries and peaches rolling into town right now are just no match for her affection for the humble, agreeable apple.

I might be a little less patient than D, because I’m okay with taking an apple or two home with me from the grocery store.  I won’t dispute the claim that the farmers’ market has better apples, or unique apples, or even her favorite kind of apples, but grocery store apples ain’t half bad!  And one advantage they have over the farmers’ market apples is that if you have an apple craving, you don’t have to wait until Saturday morning to get your fix.  Whole Foods is open seven days a week!

But what I really love about apples is that they don’t force you to wait until they are ripe to eat them.  Apples seem like they are always ready for their moment in the spotlight, as long as you don’t bruise them or let them spoil.  This ready-to-rumble attitude is in stark contrast to the banana, the peach, the nectarine, the plum, and the queen of waiting, the pear.  While that diva pear is slowly, gently softening into ripe, juicy readiness, the apple is practically bouncing up and down, shouting, “Pick me!  Pick me!”  And so, impatient creature that I am, I do.

I have found that apples can stand in quite nicely when pear isn’t an option.  This salad, for example, in its original form, called for pears, but I think it’s absolutely delicious with two crisp apples instead.  This muffin recipe also called for pears, but I love the all-American taste of an apple muffin—for me, it tastes like fall in the Midwest, even if the original recipe came from a New York Times article written by that wonderful Brit Nigella Lawson.  It’s no surprise, then, that when I was reading A Homemade Life (again!) and I got a craving for the Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan, my first thought was, Oh, rats!  I don’t have a ripe pear!  My second thought was, To Whole Foods!  For fennel, Parmesan, and APPLE!

Matt may scold me about my inability to follow other people’s recipes with the same diligence I follow molecular biology protocols, but seriously, apple is so good in this salad.  Wow.  I really like it.  I like it so much that I’ve made a one-person serving of that salad three times in seven days.  If that’s not praise, then I don’t know what is.  Now I’m dreaming of making an apple-fennel soup, with plenty of onions and maybe a touch of cream.  Or maybe an apple-fennel quiche!  (Does that sound too weird?)  I did just get my pie crust technique worked out, so I’m terribly eager to make another pie ASAP.  Before I drift off into a hazy, fennel-scented fantasy, I’d better give you the salad recipe.  Maybe it will be a jumping-off point for your own fennel fantasies.

Happy Monday, friends!

Apple, Fennel, and Parmesan Salad

Adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Serves 1

Layers of thinly sliced apple are piled on top of fennel with drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and shavings of Parmesan cheese in between—this salad is floral, fruity, and dreamy.  I’ve been using Pink Lady apples in this salad.  Pink Ladies are sweet with a floral taste similar to that of a pear.  Plus the Pink Lady has a great name, don’t you think?  I know my niece would appreciate it.

Be sure to take the time to slice the fennel thinly.  I find thickly sliced fennel is just too chewy and fibrous to be enjoyed—it’s too much work for my jaw!  But thinly sliced fennel is crisp, delicate, and easy to enjoy.

Finally, even though it’s delicious, restrain yourself with the cheese.  Good Parmesan cheese is usually pretty strong, and if you use too much, you risk overwhelming the more delicate flavors of apple and fennel, which are the whole point of the salad.  The same thing can be said for the salt: a little goes a long way.

Half of a small bulb of fennel  (I’ve been using half of a roughly 4-ounce bulb of fennel, a bit larger than the size of a golf ball, just to give you a rough idea)

Half of a Pink Lady apple, or another apple with great flavor

Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh lemon juice

Sea salt

Wedge of Parmesan cheese

1)  Prepare the fennel by slicing off the shoots (the part with the fronds) and the root end.  Halve the fennel from top to bottom; set aside one half for another day.  Thinly slice one of the halves.  My approach here is to use a sharp knife to slice it as thinly as possible.  I find small fennel bulbs much easier to slice thinly than larger bulbs.

2)  Prepare the apple by slicing it in half from top to bottom.  Set one of the halves aside for another day.  Slice the other half in half again, trim away the core and seeds, and thinly slice the remainder.

3)  To arrange the salad, make a layer of fennel pieces on a plate and drizzle them lightly with oil.  Make a pile of apple slices on top, drizzle with lemon juice, and sprinkle with a touch of sea salt.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave a piece or two of Parmesan onto the apple.  Repeat the layering, starting with fennel, until the fennel and apple are all arranged in layers.  I usually make two fennel layers here.  Drizzle with a little extra oil if you like and serve.


Laurie said...

I think apple-fennel quiche sounds wonderful, as does your soup idea and your salad. I bet you could chop some of the fennel fronds (provided your fennel came with fronds) and sprinkle a little on top of any of these recipes. It would look good, and likely taste good too.

ttfn300 said...

ooh, i don't know about this, i wasn't a fan of my fennel raw. but the quiche idea i could get behind:) caramelize it with some onions, throw in the apples in a fluffy egg bed... YUM

ammie said...

You perfected your pie crust technique? Do tell! And this sounds delicious :)

Rosiecat said...

Okay, apple-fennel quiche it is! I'll get moving on a recipe, and hopefully this August heat won't prevent me from using the oven.

Laurie, thanks for the garnish advice! Fennel fronds crack me up--they're so fluffy.

ttfn, that's EXACTLY what I was thinking for the quiche. Yum indeed!

Ammie, my crust recipe is a cross between your Chicago Diner pie crust and Molly Wizenberg's recipe in her book. I think it uses the same flour/butter proportions as your recipe, but I mix it in a food processor and use a little apple cider vinegar in the ice water. It was so good! I'll share a more precise recipe soon, when I have a filling recipe to go along with it.

Lo said...

It's true about apples... they're always there "ready for you". Love that.

I'm also eager for the moment you share your pie crust with us. Pastry is something I've not yet mastered, and I can ALWAYS use more tips!

Rosiecat said...

Hi, Lo! The pie crust is on its way. I never thought I'd be one to get excited about pastry, but there is something awfully satisfying about being able to make a decent pie. There is also something wonderfully simple and homey about pie--I think it's home-cooking at its best. And I am ALL ABOUT home-cooking.