Imagine cooking without salt: It’s like reading in the glow of a Bic lighter. Salt is the culinary light switch, amplifying and sharpening everything. The following composed salad, featuring pickled fennel, gives the mineral plenty of room to strut its stuff. As for what sort of beverage to serve with it, follow one of the cardinal rules of pairings: salt loves acidity. Sodium’s dry tingle begs for a mouth-watering beverage.
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup white-wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
- 1/2 head escarole lettuce, washed and torn
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 large ball buffalo mozzarella, sliced
- Maldon salt
To make the pickled fennel, begin by chopping fennel in half lengthwise and cutting out the core. Cut fennel in quarters, then thinly slice crosswise or shave on a mandoline. Place in a bowl. Combine water, vinegar, sugar, salt and fennel seeds in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. (You can also leave the fennel in the pickling liquid for up to a week if you’re making it ahead.) Pour over fennel and marinate for 30 minutes or until softened. Drain and refrigerate until needed.
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until browned and just crinkling. Set aside to cool.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add rosemary and sauté for 30 seconds or until crispy. Drain on paper towels.
Toss escarole with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide escarole among 4 plates. Lay a few slices of buffalo mozzarella on the side of each plate along with one-quarter of the roasted tomatoes and about 1/4 cup of the pickled fennel. Sprinkle fried rosemary leaves around the edges of the plates and decorate with a little more extra-virgin olive oil and Maldon salt.
SUGGESTED WINE PAIRINGS
Falanghina: I am still waiting for this stellar white Italian grape to have its day in the fashion spotlight. A signature of the Campania region around Naples – where buffalo mozzarella reigns supreme – it is crisp yet more characterful than (yawn) pinot grigio.