She writes of her own blog, I write about food and cooking, and in that sense, I aim to be informative, but I write about my life some, too, since it intersects with food roughly three times a day. I don’t think many of us are terribly interested in recipes that have no stories or real-life context. For me, the two are inseparable. One is pale and boring without the other.
When I came across this passage in Molly Wizenberg’s first book, A Homemade Life, I immediately grabbed a pencil and underlined it and then I read it again and again and even one more time to be sure. It’s like she took the words right out of my mouth (but in a more eloquent way). This is exactly why I love writing my blog. I love telling the story behind a great recipe. And I equally, if not more, love hearing someone else’s story behind a great recipe. Discovering the path to which people come to a recipe is fascinating to me. My friends will vow to the fact that I am a questioner through and through. I like to get the back story of something before I start to move forward and hear the current story and cooking is no different.
Molly Wizenberg is the founder of the acclaimed food blog, Orangette. She leads the crowd when it comes to story-telling food bloggers and the proof is in the success of her award winning blog and her two books (both of which are New York Times Bestsellers), A Homemade Life and Delancey. Her first book, A Homemade Life, is a memoir of her life and the foods that have resonated with her during different stages. Each chapter of the book reads like an extended blog post recounting fascinating chunks of her life. Each chapter finishes with the recipe for whatever delicious dish has been weaved into that particular story. Some of the recipes are her own, others are not. Some are involved, some are quite simple. But all of the recipes are honest and true dishes that have had a place in her life story (which is quite interesting as she struggles with loss and love and travel between Seattle, New York and her beloved Paris).
So thank you Courtney, a friend and follower of The Common Plate, for passing this book on to me this summer. It has certainly inspired me as a cook and as a writer. I have marked so many pages in this book, many for fascinating passages and even more for delicious recipes. Flipping through the book right now, I see that I have marked recipes for Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar, Bread Salad with Cherries, Arugula and Goat Cheese, Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears and Burg’s French Toast. But there is one recipe that I have been fantasizing about (weird, I know…especially since it’s a salad): Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan. Surely it’s proof that our senses are all connected when we can read a passage about food and feel like we can taste the very flavors that are described. Wizenberg says of this salad, After summer’s lettuces are gone and before winter’s red cabbage arrives, fennel is our early fall standby. It’s crisp and fragrant and cheering for the jaw. Shaved into slivers and layered on a platter, drizzled with olive oil and lemon and scattered with curls of Parmesan, it’s what salad looks like when it wears white after Labor Day. How beautiful is that passage?
I made this salad for lunch the other day with eager anticipation albeit mixed with a bit of apprehension that it couldn’t possibly taste as great as she describes. I most certainly was not disappointed. This was absolutely delicious, crunchy, fresh, sweet, citrusy and so, so, so good. I added a bit of bacon because we had some good quality Market District bacon in the fridge so, why not? I made the salad again for lunch the next day just to make sure — still as good as I thought! Don’t be dissuaded by the whitish tones of the salad….although it’s not vibrant green, fennel still has some great health benefits. Thank you Molly Wizenberg for some inspiration both in and out of the kitchen!
Fennel Salad with Asian Pear, Bacon and Parmesan (Serves 2 for dinner or 4 for a side)
1 medium fennel bulb
1 Asian pear
2 pieces of bacon, cooked (OMIT FOR CLEAN EATING)
crunchy sea salt
block of parmesan or asiago cheese
freshly ground black pepper
fronds from fennel stalks
Cook bacon and set aside to cool. When cooled, slice and set aside. (For CLEAN EATING, OMIT THE BACON). While bacon is cooking, cut the stalks off of the fennel (keep the fronds for garnish on the salad). Cut the bulb in half from stalk to root and trim the root end. Using a knife or mandolin and working with one half of the bulb at a time, slice the fennel very thinly (1/4-1/8 inch). Set aside. Core the pear with an apple corer and then cut pear in half. Using knife or mandolin, slice pear very thinly, just like the fennel. Assemble salad by making a wide layer of fennel slices. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Then place a layer of Asian pear on top of the fennel. Drizzle with lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt. Repeat layers of fennel and pear. Then using a vegetable peeler, shave ribbons of parmesan or asiago on top of the pear and sprinkle with sliced bacon. Add another drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice and top with fresh ground pepper and fronds from the fennel stalk (looks similar to fresh dill). Serve immediately.
Adapted slightly from The Homemade Life and Orangette, By Molly Wizenberg