At the moment I’m obsessed with fennel. This obsession comes, of course, at the expense of B. who is just not that into it, although I’m doing my best to change this by diversifying our fennel intake. On pizza with melted taleggio? Done. On pizza with mozzarella and finely chopped black olives? Done. Finely sliced in tuna and borlotti beans salad? Done. Of course there’s only so many ways in which fennel can be served. In Italy we usually have it braised in a pot with a splash of olive oil and water and sprinkled with black pepper, but after discovering my appreciation for it I wanted to prepare it differently and somewhat experiment with it a bit more. Enter the concept of fancy salads. Fancy salads? You know, salads where olive oil and vinegar as a dressing just won’t do. Salads fit for the early bird menus of Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurants, whose ingredients, normally including high-end grains, have been carefully arranged on the plate. After seeing this recipe on the Telegraph I knew I’d found my fennel nirvana, as well as yet another thing B. can get back at me with when I complain about something he’s done.
Jokes aside, these seemingly random ingredients thrown together are gorgeous, not to speak of the dressing: how cute are the three perfect layers in the picture below? I had some leftover pomegranate molasses in the fridge and while I realise it might not be in everyone’s cupboard, don’t let that discourage you. I’ve seen it recently in Sainsbury’s and I’m sure other supermarkets have it too. Making it yourself is easy too, and that’s what I did (hence the leftovers): try this recipe. It’s not easy to substitute it with another ingredient because its flavour is tart and sweet at the same time, but perhaps a mixture of balsamic vinegar and honey might work. Just like any other salad recipe, this one too invites you to play with it. I swapped shallots with spring onions, quinoa with rice, capers with olives, almonds with sunflower seeds and added some radishes. Just keep the same greens-to-grains ratio and you’re done. Despite being fully aware that I’ve fallen hard for the shiny kingdom of fancy salads, a part of me still thinks of them as an edible version of the organic waste bin, good for throwing anything I’ve got left in the cupboard and in the fridge. Was all this worthwhile for a bulb of fennel? You be the judge.
Finely chop the garlic clove, then sprinly with sea salt and, with the help of a spoon or butter knife, mash the two together to form a paste. Put all the dressing ingredients in a jar, screw the lid on and shake until evenly combined. Set aside. Rinse wild and red rice well, then cook in a pot of biling water for about 30-35 minutes (check at 30 minutes for doneness). When the rice is ready, drain from the cooking water, rinse under cold water and drain again. Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan on high heat, brush the fennel wedges with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the wedges on the griddle and cook evenly on each side. Set aside. Place fennel, wild and red rice, radishes, spring onions, sunflower seeds and olives in a serving plate. Sprinkle with parsley and drizzle the dressing all over. Combine with a spoon until the dressing is evenly distributed and serve.