organic

Balsamic Pear & Fennel Salad

For the new year I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to shop more locally for my groceries, especially since I am less than 5 minutes from one of the best markets in Florence. During my holiday break, I was lucky enough to travel throughout Northern Italy with my parents, and eat many seasonal and locally sourced dishes that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford on my college student, study-abroad budget. Through this I was able to taste a lot of salads composed of ingredients that the Westerner in me wouldn’t recognize as components of your typical salad. There was a lot of cured meats, or salumi, wafer thing slices, not chunks, of pecorino and gruyere, and fresh, vibrant seasonal fruits. Oddly enough there were very minimal greens or other “salad staples” in these salads. Nonetheless, they were all so delicious and bursting with flavor that I was inspired to create an artisanal salad of my own!

I perused the San Lorenzo food market for a couple of days, and researched the winter produce of Northern Italy. Finally, I settled on a salad of balsamic glazed pears, sautéed fennel, and soft pecorino. Although you may read this and think “What a wimpy salad!” These 3 ingredients are so packed with flavor and pair oh so well together. In fact, this dish is the perfect example of decadent simplicity. IMG_4735 Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized pear
  • 1 fennel, sliced
  • 100-200 grams soft pecorino
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to season

If you’re making this salad as the main course, these ingredients yield about 2 servings. However, if you’re making it as a starter, you should be able to get about 3-5 servings.

Before you begin crafting this beautifully tasty dish, I suggest prepping all of your ingredients. This means thinly slicing the pears, and breaking down the fennel. Now, I have never cooked with fennel before, so preparing this foreign root vegetable took a bit of research and evaluation. I’m going to save you my butchered description of how to prep fennel, and provide you with this handy, dandy link that helped me! Feel free to shave off some pecorino now, or while the other ingredients are cooking. It’s really never a bad thing to be prepared, and be able to focus on whats in the pan!

Start by warming a small sauté pan over medium-low heat, and add about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Add your fennel, salt and pepper to taste, and lightly sauté for no more than 3 minutes, tops. Then, in a medium-sized sauté pan add the pears, spreading them out so there is little over lapping, and cover with 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Let this cook on medium-low heat, until the pears start to become translucent, and all the balsamic has reduced. You may need to add more balsamic during the cooking process if it cooks off too quickly, or hasn’t glazed the pears to your liking.

The cooking is done. Now it’s time to plate! There are so few ingredients in this dish, so I really wanted to put forth the extra effort in presentation. I placed the sautéed fennel on a bed on spinach, evenly dispersed the shavings of pecorino, and topped it off with the warm, balsamic pears and a dash of salt. I also added a little aesthetic touch with some fennels sprigs. Then, let it sit for a moment to allow the cheese to melt in between the warm layers of fennel and pear. IMG_4738 Pause for a second, step back, and appreciate this gorgeous dish you just created. This salad deserves to be eaten slowly, to truly appreciate the sweetness of the balsamic marrying with the bitterness of the fennel , and the juxtaposition of crunchy vegetables and soft, gooey cheese. Savor and enjoy!

Victory Garden

Victory Garden is a unique frozen desserts shop on Carmine St. between Bleecker and Bedford, in the West Village. They specialize in goat’s milk hard & soft serve ice creams, along with yogurt and other fresh delectables. Their flavors are exquisitely simplistic, while still bursting with flavor. Some of their featured Spring flavors include Chocolate Rosemary, Tangy Goat Milk, and Fennel. Not flavors you’d see in your typical ice cream parlor, but better. SO much better. When I visited they also had a Carob Chip flavor, which was heaven (and quite the accomplishment since I’m not the world’s biggest chocolate advocate)!

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After sampling almost all of their soft serve I decided on a cup of chia pudding. Now I know chia seeds have been a health fad for a minute here (and yes they do have some great benefits for your body), but that’s not why you should try the chia pudding at Victory Garden. You should try it because it’s one of the most light, interesting, flavor-packed puddings I’ve ever had. It’s really a simple vanilla chia pudding recipe, but the texture is what kept me going bite after bite. As a chia newbie I asked the girl behind the counter for her best suggestions for toppings. She topped me off with carob chips and freshly chopped strawberries. Vanilla, “chocolate”, and strawberry. How original right? EXACTLY. The flavors were so natural and fresh. It reminded me why they’re such classics. Victory Garden is proof that desserts don’t need to be boosted with artificial sweeteners and extra sugars to be decadent and delicious.

Want to try to make your own chia pudding? It’s super easy and makes for a great healthy snack you can top with anything from frozen blueberries to coconut flakes!