One might think, "Ah, I need a healthy side dish, let's make a salad!", but many of us are guilty of then loading the salad up with bazillions of calories. And by many of us, I mean me. Somewhere between "salad" and adding breaded, fried chicken tenders, hard-boiled eggs, cubes of sharp cheddar cheese, and homemade ranch dressing, the ".....healthy" part got tossed out the second story window and run over by the streetcar. I'm not going to lie, it was a fabulous salad-as-main-course. I kinda want to eat it again now that I'm writing about it. But, that salad would never do paired with an already heavy main dish. So next time you're whipping up your favorite spaghetti alla carbonara and need a light salad to pair with it, think of this salad topped with shaved fennel, red onion, walnuts, parsley, and olive oil and lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Crunchy, fresh, and light, it won't fill you up...so there's more room in your belly.... for carbonara, of course.
In a previous apartment, I lived close to a little restaurant that had been around for a while, Caffe Allora. I haven't eaten there in a year or two, but as far as I know it's still trucking along. I got my inspiration for this recipe from their Insalata Mista. You can slice the fennel bulb, but you won't be able to get the pieces as thin using a chef's knife as you can by just simply shaving the fennel with a vegetable peeler. Serves 4 as a side salad.
1/2 a fennel bulb, green fronds and stalks chopped off, and tough outer layer removed
1/2 small red onion
1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon, which is less acidic than a regular lemon)
Extra-virgin Olive oil (a good quality kind that you use in salad dressings)
a handful of fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped walnut pieces
1 bag favorite lettuce mix (I used mixed butter lettuce)
1. Shave the fennel bulb into thin, crunchy strips using a vegetable peeler.
2. Thinly slice the red onion half into half moons. *Super important awesome onion tip: You can tame a good deal of the sharp flavor of fresh onions simply by rinsing the onions under cold running water, then draining. I always do this, especially when using red onions raw in a salad.
3. Remove the stems from the parsley. You can chop the parsley into fine dice if you prefer, but I think the salad looks prettier with whole leaves.
4. Divide the lettuce in between 4 salad plates. Divide up the shredded fennel evenly among the plates, then do the same with the red onion. Sprinkle on the parsley and a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Add about 2 tablespoons of walnuts per salad.
5. For the 'dressing', simply slice the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over each salad. Then drizzle on a few teaspoons of olive oil over each salad. Enjoy!