Fennel, mushroom, red onion, and orange salad...
Einstein the Cat woke The Motley Monk up at 2:33 a.m. one weekday morning a while back. Not able to fall fast asleep, The Motley Monk turned on The Food Network as a "Julia Child: Lessons with Master Chefs" episode was beginning, this episode featuring Chef Alice Waters.
It ended up being providential that Einstein the Cat awakened The Motley Monk early that morning.
As Chef Waters told her story, she fell in love with farmers' markets while visiting France in the 1960s and, once back home in California, began experimenting in her kitchen with the fresh flavors of just-picked organic produce. In 1971, Waters opened what Julia Child called a "revolutionary" restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, committed to providing customers menus that would meet Chef Waters' exacting standards. For almost four decades, Chef Waters' menus have featured the best-tasting, finest-quality, and, sometimes, most exotic products found each season (and, The Motley Monk adds, sky-high prices!).
In this particular episode, Chef Watersmade a shaved fennel, mushroom, and Parmesan salad—a clean and simple salad of thinly-sliced mushrooms and fennel, with Parmesan curls and a shallot vinaigrette. The salad looked so good that The Motley Monk wanted to write the recipe down but, alas, he fell fast asleep. However, when The Motley Monk awoke the next morning, he had not forgotten about Chef Waters' recipe and immediately scratched down a few notes detailing the elements of the recipe which he was able to recall. Then, over the course of the next few days, The Motley Monk recalled additional elements and added them as well as some other ideas to his first notes. All that was left was for The Motley Monk to prepare a shopping list, to go food shopping, and to prepare the salad.
The trick to making this salad is to prepare the ingredients and place them in individual containers. Then, it's a simple matter of assembling the ingredients into what is a real "taste treat" that awakens the palate.
First: preparing the orange
Using a zester, remove the zest from an orange. Place the zest into a container. Using a bread knife, remove the top and bottom from the orange as well as the pith. Using a paring knife, remove the segments. Place the segments into a container. Squeeze the juice from the remaining parts of the orange into a measuring cup (which will be used to make the dressing). Toss the leftovers into the trash.
Second: take out the mandolin
This recipe requires a mandolin but, The Motley Monk notes, a sharp, good knife can also work. Turn the dial on the mandolin to the lowest setting. (The Motley Monk's is ⅛-inch.) For this salad, "the thinner the slice, the better the slice." Be extremely careful not to injure a finger!
Shave one bulb of fennel, one 12-ounce contained of medium-sized button mushrooms, and ½ of a red onion. Place each ingredient into a separate container.
Third: assemble the salad
For dinner on this particular evening, The Motley Monk used a large pasta bowl to assemble and serve the salad. (The Motley Monk has also used individual flat, soup bowls to assemble individual servings. These can be covered with plastic wrap. They will hold for two days, so that the salad can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner the next day or two.)
In a large pasta bowl, layer ½ of the fennel, mushrooms, onions, orange segments, and orange zest. Add some kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and sprinkle ½ of the parmesan cheese on top. Repeat. If not using immediately, cover the pasta bowl with plastic wrap and place it into the refrigerator.
Fourth: dress the salad
Whisk some olive oil into the orange juice until the olive oil emulsifies. (If more orange juice is needed because the mushrooms will soak up much of the dressing, add some fresh squeezed or packaged orange juice like Tropicana.) Pour the orange juice on top of the salad, do not mix. Dress the top of the salad with some fennel leaves.
Even though The Motley Monk forgot to wipe the salad bowl before taking the picture above, the outcome was a taste treat!
While The Motley Monk's recipe may not be exactly like Chef Alice Waters' (the addition of the red onions and the deletion of the shallots being one change, it did take salads to new heights! A very good salad, indeed!
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