This delicious winter salad packs a fistful of flavours: crunchy baby fennel, sweet pears, toasted walnuts and nuggets of creamy blue cheese. My local greengrocer is full of lovely little baby bulbs of fennel, a vegetable I really enjoy, but don't eat often enough. You don't need to caramelise the pears, but I like their gritty stickiness.
Fennel Salad with Caramelised Pears, Walnuts and Blue Cheese
6 small bulbs fresh fennel and their tops
a handful of walnuts, broken into pieces
3 ripe, but firm, pears
2 T white sugar
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (Gorgonzola is gorgon-gorgeous with this)
4 T (60 ml) olive oil
1 t (5 ml) walnut oil (optional)
2 T (30 ml) white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
Trim bottoms off the fennel bulbs and cut off the leaves and stalks. Using a mandolin, or a very sharp knife, cut the bulb (vertically) into paper-thin slices. Place in a bowl.
Heat a frying pan, add the walnuts and toss over a medium heat until lightly toasted. Set to one side.
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of the same frying pan and heat, without stirring, until it melts and begins to turn golden. While the sugar is heating, cut the pears vertically into eighths and remove the cores. When the sugar has turned to a rich golden brown, turn down the heat and place the pear slices in the caramel. Cook for a minute or so, or until lightly caramelised, and then flip and cook the other side. Remove from the heat.
Arrange the fennel slices and pears on a platter. Top with toasted walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, and a sprinkling of the feathery green fennel tops.
To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, walnut oil and wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the salad and toss well.