- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

After a winter defined by months of freezing temperatures and inordinate amounts of snow, I couldn’t wait until spring arrived. When the first few days of warm temperatures graced our area, everyone became ecstatic.

Reserved New Englanders, in stores and on the streets, who barely looked me in the face during the chill of winter, smiled at me and nodded hello.

Our social calendar has improved, as well. The advent of spring, it seems, has inspired more than one of our friends to entertain. In addition to the appealing weather, the bounty of fresh ingredients in our markets at this time of year also serves as a stimulus to cook and invite others to our homes.

One of the best recipes I have used this spring was featured in a cooking class I taught with fellow chef Matt Sunderland. Titled “Celebrate Spring,” the course’s menu included a creamy asparagus soup, roast veal and vegetables, a watercress and pistachio salad, and a lemon cake filled with lemon curd.

The refreshing salad, which Matt created, proved a winner on more than one occasion in April. Watercress, thinly sliced fennel and fresh orange segments are tossed in a crisp, citrus dressing made with orange juice, white wine vinegar and olive oil. A garnish of chopped pistachios and crumbled goat cheese provide crunch and flavor to the dish.

This salad works beautifully as a side dish with grilled or roasted meats or fish, or it can be used to start a meal. I’ve offered the salad both ways and recently served it as the entree for a lunch.

Even the pickiest of eaters seems to find this salad irresistible. My husband, who eschews fruit of any kind in his salads, looked at me after putting the last bite of orange in his mouth and confessed that this particular salad was a “keeper.” Maybe spring has changed his taste buds.

Betty Rosbottom

DRESSING:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

2 teaspoons white vinegar, if needed

1 small clove garlic, peeled and slightly crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt and several grinds black pepper, plus more if needed

SALAD: 1 bunch watercress (about 1/2 pound), cleaned thoroughly and base stems trimmed

1 medium fennel bulb

2 medium navel oranges

3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, broken into small bits

1/2 cup roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped (see note)

For the dressing, whisk together oil, orange juice, zest and vinegar. Add garlic, salt and pepper. Let dressing sit an hour at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator. Remove and discard the garlic. (The dressing can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate.) Whisk the dressing well to combine before using.

For the salad, place the watercress in a salad bowl. Trim and discard the long stem from the fennel. Then halve the bulb, lengthwise. Cut out and discard the tough cores.

Slice the fennel halves, lengthwise, as thinly as possible. Add the fennel slices to the bowl.

Peel the oranges, removing all the white pith, then cut into segments and remove any seeds. Add the orange segments to the bowl.

Add just enough dressing to coat the salad ingredients lightly. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Divide and mound the salad on four salad plates. Sprinkle each serving with some goat cheese and chopped pistachios. Drizzle any remaining dressing over salads. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Buy roasted, shelled, unsalted pistachios. If you can’t find roasted, shelled pistachios, you can roast them yourself. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly browned.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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