Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Green Salad

Last night we had grilled pork chops, boiled new potatoes and a green salad - an elegant summer supper. A good green salad is a wonderful thing and yet it is such a disappointment to order a green salad with a meal and be presented with a bowl of limp and manky leaves swimming in oil. I decided to improve on that version last night and I didn't even have any lettuce. I did have fennel, rocket and celery - all green, so therefore ideal.

Fennel is a greyish-green, hairless plant with vertically-grooved, branched stems which smell of aniseed when crushed. It is grown for its white bulbous root, the crisp succulent flesh perfumed with aniseed. The bulbs are a thing of beauty, a tight cluster of overlapping leaf stems with delicate green feathery fronds. Synonyms and Common names: Fenkel, Finkle, Fennel fruit, foeniculi fructus, German = Fenchel, French = Fenouil, Spanish = Hinojo, Italian = Finocchio

In the spring following the Great Fire in 1666, Londoners were astonished to see a sudden eruption of a plant they called London rocket. It wasn’t the plant itself they thought remarkable — a close relative of the hedge mustard, rather more than a foot tall, with small yellow flowers — but the vast quantities of it that appeared, growing everywhere on burnt areas. Still today rocket grows with gusto.

All rocket species have a distinct, pungent-aromatic flavour; the pungency increases with the age of the leaf. I grow it in the garden every summer - late in the season it is spectacularly hot and a much lighter hand is needed sprinkling it into salads. It makes for a great pasta sauce.

Useless information - rocket is a member of the cabbage family.

Celery is one of three vegetables considered the holy trinity (along with onions and bell peppers) of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine. It is also one of the three vegetables (together with onions and carrots) that constitute the French mirepoix, which is often used as a base for sauces and soups. I really like it's earthy taste and the crunch it gives raw in your mouth.

Celery has about 6 calories in a stalk and, because of the plants largely cellulose composition, we can't access them when we eat it. This has made celery a dieter's delight and given rise to the notion that eating celery takes more calories to digest than it contains, so you'll end up a skinny minny in no time. It's actually true - the calories consumed bit not the skinny minny bit. It's the digesting of celery that consumes energy. I used to think it was the chewing - three or four sticks can seem like a lot to get through - but apparently that uses the same number of calories as watching your tea towels soak.

With these humble ingredients I set about making salad.

Green Salad

1 head of fennel
100g/4oz rocket - the serrated leaf wild stuff if you can get it
3 stalks of celery
3 tbspns spiced orange oil
1 tbspn lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Wash the fennel and slice it thinly as possible across its roundness and discard the hard core centre. I slice the little fingers as well, they add a different shape and another shade of green. Put the fennel into a large salad bowl. Pick and wash the rocket and add that too. Wash the celery and slice each stalk into 1 inch/2cm bits, stripping off any stringy bits then add it to the other vegetables. Mix the oil, juice and seasonings in a jar then tip over the salad and toss. If you make it half an hour before serving dinner the flavours will meld.


Anonymous said...

Mmm, that looks great - especially the fennel! I tend to use it in tomatoey, mediterranean ways but should really try it in salad.

bron said...

It works really well raw - have a look at the fennel, pea and mint salad for another idea