The Professor has left for campus, the house is quiet except for the hum of the humidifier and the occasional mew of a cat; a mix of sleet, rain and snow tumble from the cloudy, gray skies as a fickle Mother Nature straddles the weather fence in deciding which it’s going to be today. And somewhere in a dark cave in Philadelphia, there’s a very large, furry rodent snickering gleefully at his deceitfulness in getting our hopes up that an early Spring, was indeed, on its way.
But my mind wanders to a sunny neighborhood in the Seattle area where musicians play in front of a pizzeria and where cheerful waitstaff deliver platters of antipasta with briny, buttery olives and artisan salumi to the table. The air is heavy and sticky and the evening sun is still so bright, I need my sunglasses. Women in sundresses and flip-flops and men in cotton shirts, cargo shorts and driving moccasins crowd the small bar while at least a dozen customers linger about waiting for their turn at a table. Housemade ginger brew is served in dark brown bottles, water rivulets cascading downward while small pieces of ginger swirl in the cloudy, ice-cold liquid; the level of chatter rises and falls as friends and families gather to share a meal, to catch up, to connect.
I remember intentionally quieting myself enough to capture the scene knowing I’d need these memories at some point during the bleak winter of the Midwest – the sights, the sounds and the smell of yeast, of the wood-burning oven in that small pizzeria would be my saving grace on days like today. That I would need the memories of giggling, squirming children, hot, sweaty hair stuck to their heads – memories of small, pudgy hands reaching for another slice of salumi; that I would need the lifeline of good friends and new acquaintances to pull me from the last of Winter’s grasp and into Spring.
I made Preserved Lemons specifically so I could make this simple, yet oh-so-delicious Fennel Salad; I think we’ve made this salad at least a half a dozen times since last summer, tweaking it here and there until I got it right . . . I think. I do not have access to artisan goat cheese but a good quality French Chevre will do – the mix of slightly crunchy, salted, licoricey fennel against the creaminess and tang of the goat cheese mingled with flecks of preserved lemon is really wonderful – just a touch of olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper has me laughing and enjoying that meal all over again.
Summer. I await your return.
FENNEL SALAD WITH PRESERVED MEYER LEMONS
- 2 large fennel bulbs, tops chopped off, reserve a few fronds
- 3-4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 Tablespoons Meyer Lemon juice
- 3 quarter-wedges of Preserved Meyer Lemons, pulp scraped and discarded, rind thinly sliced and chopped
- 4 ounces goat cheese
- Chop the tops off each fennel bulb, cut in half and remove the large core part
- Using a sharp Chef’s knife, slice fennel as thinly as possible; I use a mandoline because I can get nice, thin slices – use the guard and make sure to keep your fingers out of the way!
- Take 3 of the quartered wedges of preserved lemon, scrape the pulp and discard; thinly slice and chop the rind
- Add olive oil, lemon juice and preserved lemons to a large mixing bowl; add fennel slices and toss to coat
- Let stand for about 10-15 minutes to soften the fennel
- Transfer fennel and preserved lemons to plates (leaving behind any excess liquid – but be sure to plate any lemon pieces as those are tasty!)
- Scatter bits of goat cheese evenly between the plates, season with salt and pepper and serve