I think it was last Sunday that our heat first stopped working. We’d just gotten back from out of town, and we had house guests. D had made their bed, I was making dinner, and as I passed through the hallway to check on the mujaddara, I noticed that our vents were pumping bitter cold air. No problem; I cranked the target temperature up to 77, hoping the heat would kick in. Two hours later, no dice. I was standing over the oven warming my hands, our guests were asking for extra layers, and the needle on the thermostat was slowly sinking below 60.
Faced with a cold apartment and a dearth of natural insulation, I did what any sane person does, the only logical thing to do, if you ask me. I made a salad.
Ladies and gents, I present “Salad on a Heatless Winter Evening,” cut from the same cloth as “Ice Cream in February” (a brilliant marketing ploy by the manufacturers of the cold stuff that’s garnered mass appeal). I loved this salad so much the first time I made it that I’ve eaten it on three heatless nights since then. Inexplicably, eating a cold salad in cold weather takes the edge off that chill. Maybe it’s the whole “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” thing.
There may be nothing warm or comforting about this salad, but boy is it good. The fennel is crunchy and refreshing, offset by bitter arugula. Sweet pear slices, buttery toasted pecans, and salty pecorino (my new favorite ingredient) round out the salad. The combination is of the addictive, can’t-stop-eating variety. Especially now that the heat’s back on.
Arugula Fennel Salad with Pears, Pecans, and Pecorino
serves 4, or 2 as an entree
1 bulb fennel, stems removed, fronds reserved
4 cups arugula
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pecorino cheese (can substitute parmesan)
For the dressing:
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1/2 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans onto a baking sheet in a single layer, and bake for 7-10 minutes, until slightly darkened and very fragrant but not burned. Set pecans aside to cool.
Halve fennel, and make a v-shaped slice into the heart of each half to remove the core and stem. Using a mandoline or a very sharp chef’s knife, slice fennel into rings about 1/8-inch thick. Slice pears into 1/8-inch slices as well.
Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl or jar, and whisk or shake to combine.
In a large salad bowl, combine arugula, fennel, pear, pecans, and pecorino. Drizzle most of dressing over salad, taste, and add more dressing if desired. Serve immediately.