This fennel salad is slightly over the top. Do I really need the nuts and the cheese? (Yes, but it’s up to you if you keep them.) Is this salad gonna be good if you don’t have mint? Yep. Swap Planters cocktail peanuts you found in your pantry for the pistachios? Sure. What if you just use ground pepper and skip the red? OK. The important step is eating this salad as soon as you dress the fennel. You want that full crunch experience. The crushed green olives should be big and fleshy, like a chunky relish to contrast the icy bite of the fennel. It’s baroque and bright and briny. All that acidity in the salad begs to be paired with juicy pork chops or a steak.
Using the side of a chef’s knife or the bottom of a mug, crush the olives. Tear out the pits, leaving the olives a little craggy. Scoop them into a small bowl and add the pistachios, olive oil and red chile flakes. Using a Microplane, finely grate the zest of half of the lemon over the olive mixture, season with salt and ground pepper and set aside. It should look like a chunky relish.
If you see brown jagged streaks on the fennel, remove an outer layer. Trim and discard about ½ inch from the root end of both fennel bulbs. Thinly slice the fennel bulb crosswise, starting from the base. It doesn’t need to be paper-thin. You’re going for about ¼-inch-thick slices. (This would be a good time to use the mandoline you bought.)
In a large bowl, combine the fennel, mint, cheese and vinegar. Finely grate the zest of the remaining half of the lemon over the fennel salad. Halve the lemon and squeeze the juice into the bowl, catching any seeds with your other hand. Drizzle the salad with a little olive oil and season with salt. Toss until every piece of fennel is nicely coated. I like my fennel salad tangy, but you can add another tablespoon of oil if you want it less tart.
Spoon the olive relish onto a platter or plates and scatter the dressed fennel over it, trying to make it as architectural as you want (it’s OK to play with your food). Serve immediately.
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