One of my sons, Max, owns a restaurant in western Massachusetts called The Night Kitchen. His menu reflects what the farmers of the Pioneer Valley are growing that season, along with what he harvests from his own gardens. In spring, this fennel and beet salad is a top hit among his devoted clientele because of the beautiful presentation and the wonderful contrasts of texture and flavor. Select smaller beets and use the interior, less fibrous fennel stalks to reinforce the light crispness of this festive dish. This recipe serves four to six as a first course.
For the salad:
6 small red beets
6 small golden beets (or 6 more red beets)
Salt and pepper
Juice of one lemon
1 large fennel bulb
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons toasted fennel seeds
Preheat the oven or a toaster oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet, or the toaster oven pan, with foil. Scrub the beets, trim the stem and root ends, pat dry and coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick can be inserted easily into the center.
While the beets are roasting, add the lemon juice to a mixing bowl. Trim the root and stem ends of the fennel and use the wide side of a grater to thinly slice the inner stalks. Add the fennel to the bowl and add just enough cold water to cover.
Cool the beets, and use a sharp knife to slice them into thin rounds. If they’re small, it’s not necessary to slice them.
For the dressing:
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup champagne vinegar
¾ cup mild olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Add the shallots and vinegar to a small pan over high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by half. In a small bowl combine this mixture, the olive oil and honey. Whisk well and add salt and pepper to taste.
Place an overlapping circle of beet sliced on each of 4-6 salad plates. Drain the fennel into a strainer and shake out any remaining liquid. Arrange a small mound of fennel in the center of each plate. Sprinkle with feta. Whisk the dressing and drizzle over the salad, and finish with a sprinkle of fennel seeds.
For additional tips related to this recipe, see www.hortmag.com/article/beetfennelsaladtips