You can barely call this a recipe: it involves thinly slicing a couple ingredients, adding some olives, and tossing with olive oil. But it's just one of those magical combinations that works. Fennel and citrus belong together, but the addition of olives adds a little twist to the citrus acidity, giving it a briny undertone. The whole lemon goes in, including peel, which adds some textural interest.
This salad comes from Lidia Bastianich, the self-proclaimed (and probably deserved) First Lady of Italian Cooking. Her book Lidia's Family Table is full of recipes that are Italian in a way that's full-bodied and exuberant, but at the same time subtle and unique. I recognize the dishes as classics, but her Istrian roots keep them from being boring. Here, she suggests pairing this piquant salad with a piece of grilled fish, but it would also be great with roast chicken. A little of this salad goes a long way—you wouldn't want to eat it on its own.
Fennel and citrus, in season in winter, are also its foil; their bright and crunchy union is a welcome respite. And olives? Well, aren't those always in season?
- 2 cups oil-cured olives, pitted
- 1 lemon, washing and sliced into tiny cubes (see below)
- 2 cups diced fennel bulb (1 large or 2 small bulbs)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of an additional lemon
Pit the olives if not already done (or just slice them all in half to make it easier), drain of any brine that may discolor the salad, and add to a bowl.
Using a very sharp serrated knife, thinly slice the lemon, then stack two or three slices on top of each other and slice into thin strips. Finally, slice across the strips into tiny pieces, and add to the olives.
Cut off the fennel stalks, peel the bulb, then quarter it. At this point, it should be easy to cut out the core. Discard any tough outer leaves, then dice what remains, and add to the bowl.
Cover the salad with the olive oil and lemon juice, and toss to combine. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to marry and the lemon peel to soften.