For best effect, arrange alternating slices of pears and fennel in a fan shape on the plate, then add shavings of Parmesan cheese. To this very Italian combination, I like to add some pinenuts. You may be able to find them ready toasted, but if not they are much improved if you have a chance to brown them in a dry, nonstick frying pan on top of the stove for 2-3 minutes. Take care as they scorch easily. This salad can act as appetizer, dessert, or even a light main course if you add a bit more cheese.

Serves 4

  • 1 medium fennel bulb (about 225g/½lb)
  • 2 medium ripe pears
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch watercress (about 85g/3oz)
  • 40g/1½oz/¼ cup pinenuts
  • 55g/2oz piece of Parmesan cheese (for shaving)
  • For the Dressing
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup olive oil

1.  Trim root and top of the fennel bulb and discard any tough outer leaves. Halve it and slice each half very thinly, if possible on the mandoline. Peel and halve the pears. Scoop out the cores and stem ends using a melon baller or small spoon. Cut each half into thin crescent slices. Brush them with lemon juice so they do not discolor and cover tightly with plastic wrap, pressing it down so all air is excluded.

2. For the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl until mixed.  Gradually whisk in the oil so the dressing emulsifies and thickens slightly.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

3. Shortly before serving: Wash and dry the watercress, discard stems, and arrange the sprigs on 4 individual plates. Arrange the pear and fennel slices in a fan on top.  Whisk the dressing lightly to reemulsify it, then spoon it over the pears and fennel. Sprinkle with pinenuts and shave a few slices of Parmesan onto each plate. Serve the salad as soon as  possible, within a half hour.

Shortcut: Simplify the salad presentation: Peel and halve the pears without slicing them.  Toss the sliced fennel with vinaigrette and arrange it on serving plates, with a pear half on the side.  Spoon over the remaining dressing, and sprinkle with pinenuts and cheese.

Getting Ahead: The fennel and pear can be sliced, and the dressing made up to 2 hours ahead. Keep everything at room temperature. Wash the watercress and assemble the salad just before serving.

On the Side: Focaccia, from your favorite bakery.

In the Glass: A glass of Marsala would make a marriage from heaven.


From Good Food No Fuss by Anne Willan, 2003

Photo CREDIT: Simon Wheeler