Dear reader, IT IS SPRINGTIME! Welcome, to you and to me, and to the crocuses and daffodils and green grasses and robins and woodland creatures and other such iconic symbols of the season.
In the interest of originality, I hesitate to say this at all, but the turning of the seasons really is a wonderful thing, for a whole host of reasons. The variation keeps me grateful, giving me a chance to miss that which came before and to be eager for that which is approaching. I appreciate one season because I’ve experienced its opposite–perhaps for months on end. And even when my routine feels monotonous, I know the weather won’t be: indeed, it will be there to remind me that things do change, all the time. I call to mind memories of hot summer nights when no number of fans could keep my apartment cool and then think of the ice and snow that coated my corner of the world in winter–both of these equidistant from the present and equally foreign in this moment.
I love the rhythm of the ever-changing seasons. In the years since college, I have been surprised to discover how different life feels without semesters and syllabi and seasonal jobs and frequent relocations keeping things in flux. In this post-collegiate life, there is no graduation looming, no singular goal to work toward. But the seasons bring a cadence all their own. And with the rising and sinking temperatures, the snowfall and rainfall and fall of the leaves and the shifting morning light come a plethora of other changes. We swap one wardrobe for another, putting aside our warm winter boots and thick tights and chunky sweaters in favor of sandals and sundresses and breezy tops. Instead of hunkering down inside, wrapping ourselves in blankets, we sit on porches and patios to feel the wind in our hair. And from an endless appetite for warming soups and hearty stews and roasted vegetables and braised greens with garlic, we emerge into cravings for fruit tarts and cool yogurt topped with crunchy granola and simple, bright salads.
Which brings me to today’s recipe: a top-notch salad, one that will fulfill your desire for something crisp and light and keep you satiated until the early spring greens burst from the ground and the tomatoes and zucchini return to our kitchen counters. The recipe is from Molly Wizenberg, she of Orangette fame, my culinary heroine. It is a delectable assemblage of good things: fennel, Asian pear and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the whole lot drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and speckled with salt and pepper. Every element has a crucial role to play. The Asian pear is at its very best, lending sweetness and watery crispness; the fennel is aromatic and crunchy and clean. Complementing that crispness and crunch–so perfectly suited to the newness of spring–the nutty, deeply flavored Parmesan and olive oil bring nuance, and the salad is punctuated with the brightness of lemon.
And so, on this first day of spring, I urge you to trade in your bowl of hearty stew and your winter coat for a plate of crunchy salad and a light sweater, and revel in change and rhythm and newness and all that is good.
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg‘s A Homemade Life
1 medium (about 10 ounces) fennel bulb
1 Asian pear
Wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Crunchy salt (Maldon or fleur de sel if you have it)
Freshly ground black pepper
First, prepare the fennel. Remove the long stalks and fronds, reserving some of the fronds for garnish if you’d like. Trim away any bruises on the fennel bulb’s outermost layer, and then cut it in half from root to stalk, and trim the root end. Working with one-half of the bulb at a time, use a sharp knife or a mandoline to slice the fennel very thinly, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Set aside.
Then, prepare the Asian pear. Slice it in half and discard the core. With your sharp knife or mandoline, slice it very thinly, as with the fennel. Set aside.
Now, compose your salad. Layer the elements on a large platter, one at a time: a layer of fennel, a drizzle of olive oil, a layer of Asian pear, a drizzle of lemon juice, a sprinkling of salt, ribbons of cheese (shaved with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife). Repeat these layers until you run out of ingredients. (Alternately, you can simply toss everything together in a large bowl. Perhaps not as pretty, but no less delicious!)
Finish the salad with generous splashes of olive oil and lemon, a few more ribbons of cheese, a couple of reserved fennel fronds (optional), salt and pepper.
Yield: 4 small servings or a light meal for 2
Recipes for the in between:
1. Monday: Simplest Jam Tart
2. Tuesday: Fennel and Asian Pear Salad with Parmesan