Summer means fresh fruits are in abundance! I love incorporating fruits into my summer recipes, fruit salsas, fruit based desserts, jams, compotes, or salads — fruits take on a major role in my kitchen. If you are a regular reader, you know that my mother lives in central Florida and is fighting a battle against breast cancer. As a result, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with her and focusing on crafting new recipes that are healthy AND delicious for us to enjoy together.
Recently, I discovered that the 2014 Food and Wine Conference will be held at Rosen Shingle Creek, just over an hour from where my mother lives. We will be back in the US for a wedding this summer and I have my heart set on attending the conference. As a sponsor of the conference, Rosen Shingle Creek is also hosting a recipe contest for an original recipe inspired by one of their restaurants. The contest winner will win a stay at the resort, reimbursement for the conference fees, and a dining gift card. In my excitement after discovering the conference, I studied each of the menus for the restaurants at Rosen Shingle Creek (I love exploring restaurant menus for inspiration!). The Cala Bella menu clicked for me. Even though I haven’t eaten at the restaurant, the dishes and flavors brought me back to our past trips to Italy and our Mediterranean inspired diet. Food that reminds me of vacation is always a good thing!
My next stops were the local produce stand, my pantry, and the fridge so I could get my recipe creation on. When I saw fresh apricots and fennel bulbs at the produce stand, I looked no further. Two of my favorite ingredients—why have I never put these two together before in a salad? The spicy, crunchy, fresh fennel is wonderfully balanced by the sweet, soft, and fragrant apricots. Then, since this is a recipe contest after all, I layered on another flavor profile by adding some pickled red onions to the salad. I brought everything together with some fresh mint and a white wine vinaigrette. If you are lucky enough to have a mandolin in your kitchen—break it out for this salad! I carefully sliced all of the components with my trusty Chef’s knife, so it’s doable, but this is what mandolins were made for!
I hope this recipe is a contest winner for the Conference, but even if it isn’t, this was a winner in our house. In fact, I probably snacked on a quarter of the salad before dinner ever made it to the table. This salad goes wonderfully with something homey and simple, like spaghetti and meatballs— and if you want my recipe for that ole’ standby, you’ll have to tune in to my next post. In the meantime, you can follow Rosen Shingle Creek on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.
For the pickled onions:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
For the salad:
2 medium or 3 small bulbs fresh fennel, very thinly sliced
5-6 fresh apricots, seeded and sliced
¼ cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
For the dressing:
¼ cup good extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup white wine
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon apricot jam
Start by pickling the red onions, so they have time to pickle while you put together the rest of the salad. In fact, I do this before I slice fennel and apricots so I can maximize the pickling time. Make sure your red onions are sliced as thinly as possible-ahem, enter mandolin. Once sliced, rinse the onions under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Rinsing the onions removes a little bit of the bite from the onions. Then, in a small bowl with a secure top or zip lock bag, add the red onions, sugar, and red wine vinegar. I usually do this in a glass container with a lock top because I like to lock the top and give the onions a good shake. Then, let the onions marinate, covered, at room temperature while you are making the rest of the salad. I like to let the onions marinate for at least 20 minutes.
The rest of the salad is easy to put together. I make the dressing next because the fennel will brown just slightly and I can slow the oxidation process if the dressing is ready for tossing the salad right away. So, to make the dressing, in a small bowl, simply whisk together the olive oil, white wine, mustard, and jam. TASTE! If you prefer a little more bite, add a little more mustard or even a splash of vinegar. Want your dressing sweeter? Add more jam! I tend not to like sweet dressings so many of you may prefer a little more jam in your dressing.
Thinly slice the fennel. Then, seed and slice the apricot and chop the mint.
Now, it’s time to put it all together.
Drain the red onions, but reserve the red wine vinegar (you might want to add a little zing to your salad and the reserved red wine vinegar is perfect for that). Add the pickled red onions, fennel, apricot, and mint and toss together with the dressing. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a splash of that reserved red wine vinegar if you want a little more acidity to your salad. Let the salad rest for at least 10-15 minutes or up to an hour at room temperature to allow all of the flavors to meld and wish me luck in the recipe contest!