Nine times out of ten, when you see fennel salad on a restaurant menu, it is simply shaved with lemon, olive oil and Parmesan cheese — a classic, foolproof combination to be sure, but if I'm going to pay $9 for a side salad, it had better not be something I can make perfectly well at home on a Wednesday night. So when I spotted an unusual fennel salad with roasted tomatoes, pistachios and cream on the menu of Seattle's The Walrus and the Carpenter, I knew I had to order it. And once I tasted it, I knew I had to make a version of my own.
The Walrus and the Carpenter is an oyster bar, and a very good one, so although the assortment of raw, briny, perfect oysters was the highlight of my happy hour visit, the fennel salad was an unexpected second-favorite. It was the cream-based dressing that was a surprise, softening the flavors without making the salad any less crisp and refreshing. That, and the genius combination of fennel and pistachios, which I had never tried before.
Restaurants are good for inspiration, but in the reality of my kitchen, a salad dressed with heavy cream isn't going to be on regular rotation. Instead, my version uses reduced-fat Greek yogurt, for a slightly more tart dressing with the creaminess of the original. Although the dressing looks quite thick going on, it thins out once tossed with the fennel, coating each piece without being gloppy.
The only element that keeps this salad from being a last-minute dinner option is the slow-roasted tomatoes, which take two to three hours off hands-off time to make. But in winter, when good tomatoes feel as far away as a beach vacation, this technique transforms ho-hum hothouse cherry tomatoes into sweet-tart orbs bursting with real tomato flavor. I've given instructions for making more than you'll need; they keep well and you'll find many ways to use them up.
With its thinly sliced fennel tossed with refreshing yogurt dressing and dotted with crunchy bits of pistachio and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes that burst in your mouth, this is a winter salad worth making again and again.
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt Black pepper 1 large fennel bulb 1/2 cup slow-roasted cherry tomatoes (recipe below) 1/4 cup shelled, salted pistachios
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking continuously, until emulsified. Add the yogurt and whisk until smooth. Season to taste with black pepper and set aside.
With a mandoline or sharp knife, cut the fennel bulb crosswise into very thin slices. Place in a large bowl and toss with the dressing until thoroughly coated. Add the roasted tomatoes and mix carefully, so tomatoes don't burst.
Using the flat side of a knife blade, lightly smash the pistachios to break them into pieces and sprinkle over the salad before serving.
Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes 2 teaspoons olive oil Salt
Preheat oven to 250°F. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. Place on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 2-3 hours, or until tomato skins are puffed and lightly browned, but still intact. (A few tomatoes may burst before they are all browned, which is fine.) Let cool for 5 minutes before using. Can be made and stored in the refrigerator up to 3 days ahead.
• To make the most of the long oven time, the roasted tomato recipe makes more than you need for the salad. Serve the remaining tomatoes as an appetizer alongside cheese or crudite, tucked into sandwiches (but watch out, they burst!), or in any other salad recipe.
• This salad can be assembled and refrigerated up to 3 hours before serving. For best texture, sprinkle on the pistachios just before serving.