Salad of Fennel & Cucumber with Asian Pear, Rice Vinegar & Olive Oil

Folle de Fenouil! 

This recipe has my friend Jessica’s name all over it!  Elle est folle de fenouil.

This is a refreshing salad, bright crisp cucumber slices paired with fennel bulb and pear. A surprise ingredient is Pastis, an anise liqueur, which echoes the subtle anise flavor of the fennel.  This dish can be a side garnish for a grilled or sautéed fish such as salmon or halibut.

Salad of Fennel & Cucumber with Asian Pear, Rice Vinegar & Olive Oil

1 medium fennel bulb (about 10 ounces)
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/3 cup Pastis or other anise liqueur
1 small ripe but firm Asian pear
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 English cucumber, trimmed and peeled
3 Tbs olive oil
8 Picholine Olives (pitted, chopped and mixed in the salad)
1 Tbs minced chives
Garnish with Fennel fronds

Trim the stalks from the fennel bulb and discard (or save to use in vegetable stock); reserve the tender green fennel fronds for garnish. Halve the fennel bulb and cut away the core. Separate the layers of fennel, trimming away any tough or browned portions. Cut the fennel, with the grain, into thin julienne strips. Put the fennel in a medium bowl with a pinch of salt and the Pastis. Toss to mix and marinate for a few minutes, then strain, reserving the Pastis.

Bring the Pastis to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, careful to avoid any flames that may rise up from the pan as the alcohol burns off. Boil until reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 2 to 3 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Peel and core the pear and cut it into julienne strips. Put the pear in a small bowl with the vinegar and gently toss to mix . Marinate for a few minutes, then strain, reserving the vinegar. Halve the cucumber lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a small spoon. Cut across the halves into thin slices and put them in a large bowl. Stir the reserved rice vinegar into the reduced Pastis, then drizzle this over the cucumber, tossing to evenly coat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with a pinch of salt and a few grindings of white pepper and toss to evenly mix.

In another bowl, combine the fennel and pear with the remaining tablespoon olive oil and the chives. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss gently to mix.

For each serving, lay some of the fennel fronds on the bottom the plate and set a 4-inch ring on top. Spoon 1/4 of the cucumber salad into the ring and top with 1/4 of the  fennel/pear salad, then lift up the ring. (Alternatively, spoon the salad onto the plates in tidy circles.) Drizzle a bit of the remaining vinaigrette around the salad. Top each salad with a small frond of fennel and serve.

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