This Italian Arugula and Fennel Salad with Basil Dressing salad was one of the show-stoppers at a recent vegetarian cooking group meal. My friends Nina and Tim planned an Italian menu, and this flavorful salad was phenomenal. I have become addicted to it in the last two weeks, and have probably made it five times in that period of time. I normally love the black-pepper-spiciness of arugula salads, and this one is unique with refreshing fennel slices, and the thick basil dressing. The green opaque basil dressing is as thick as pesto, but with more flavor and less oil. I would love to use this in other dishes where I used to use pesto. The lemon, fennel fronds, and touch of honey all lift and brighten the basil flavor. It tastes like the essence of summer.
You will need a sharp vegetable peeler or food processor with slicing attachment to shave the fennel bulb. I tried making this one time by hand-slicing the fennel, but the slices were too thick and crunchy. The fennel really needs to be shaved, so that it is fluffy and feathery. Many stores sell vegetarian parmesan (without animal rennet). Trader Joe’s has a handy guide about various types of rennet in their products, and their vegetarian parmesan is shredded and comes in a bag.
italian arugula and fennel salad with basil dressing
2 bunches of arugula
1-2 fennel bulbs
1/2 bunch fresh basil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
5 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon honey
parmesan or pecorino cheese
Zest the lemon. With a sharp knife, remove the white pith. Put the inner part of the lemon into a food processor. Add the basil, fennel seeds, the fluffy fennel greens from the stalks, 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Puree. Gradually add the 5th tablespoon of olive oil, if needed. Now add the lemon zest, honey, salt, and pepper to the dressing. Puree again to mix. You can make this a few hours ahead of time, and chill in the refrigerator, if needed. Grate the parmesan or pecorino cheese. Arrange the gratings onto a lined baking sheet into little flat 2-inch circles. Broil these in the oven until they melt and turn into little disks.
Arrange the arugula in a large bowl or a wide platter. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb. Add the fennel shavings to the salad. Top the salad with the dressing and disks of broiled cheese.