I have a confession to make. I am still eating comfort food, even though I mentioned experiencing a certain ennui around said food in a previous post. I am still tucking away a gratin or a enchilada casserole from time to time, but I thought I would share something light, crunchy and easy to put together. The grass is not yet green here in Maine, but spring is tentatively peeking out. I just saw the tips of my tulip and allium bulbs break ground. I kept the squirrels at bay with netting and bricks and just removed the deterrents the other day. A few more days of those brick hats, and the bulbs’ upward trajectory would have been smashed. Cheers for unrestrainable nature.
I am a big fan of Donna Hay, an Australian caterer whose cookbook and magazines I covet for both the recipes and her design aesthetic. The recipes are simple and yes! elegant. Below is an adaptation of her apple/fennel salad with salted caramel pecans that I believe does a good job of straddling the season. Would it be a stretch to call it mud season food? Perhaps. When I attempt to caramelize anything, it’s a crapshoot. However, this time, I vowed to not overthink it. Much like during my tap class, where I freeze, tap shoe in mid-air, not sure where my foot is supposed to go. The more I trust my body and instincts and shut off the left brain, the easier the tapping comes. The same with caramel. Check out the pecans in the photos. They are shiny and caramelized to perfection. Besides not overthinking, I also didn’t overstir and left them to swim in the sugar syrup until the heat worked its alchemical magic.
Apple Fennel Salad with Caramelized Pecans
1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly
2-3 T fennel fronds, chopped fine
1 apple sliced thinly (Pink Lady or Gala )
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup caster sugar (superfine)
1 T water
1 tsp sea salt
2 T white balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
1. Place pecans, sugar, salt and water in a bowl and toss to coat. Add more water if sugar is clumping. Heat a non-stick frying pan to medium. Add the pecan mixture to the pan, and cook for 6-8 minutes. Stir occasionally until caramelized. Remove from heat, and let cool.
2. Whisk oil and vinegar together. Combine fennel and apple slices in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Sprinkle pecans and chopped fennel fronds atop.