Fennel, Pear, and Parmesan…Some Assembly Required

by April on May 4, 2012

Fennel Pear Salad

In my quest to prove I eat produce (declaration here, underneath the cupcake, and exhibit A here), I bring you this fennel-pear salad.

If I were one to play favorites, this one comes in second. And if I were one to make a list of favorite salads, here’s how the top three would line up:

  1. Avocado-Mango Salad with Queso Fresco, Bacon, and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  2. Salad Pictured Above
  3. Fruit-Cheese Salad with Avocado, Feta, Tomato, Dried Cranberries, Toasted Walnuts, Bacon, and Green Apple

We’ll get to the first and third one, promise. But for now, let’s talk fennel, pear, and Parmesan.

This recipe comes from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, creator of the popular Orangette blog (please subscribe and join me in my girl crush). Molly has an uncanny ability to send me straight to the kitchen to recreate her Paris with French apple turnovers or some other slice of her life, and this salad was just the latest recipe of hers to become a minor obsession of mine.

As obsessions go, at least it’s a healthy one. Even if you aren’t a fennel fan, you should give it a go. The lemon juice seems to subdue the delicate licorice taste of fennel, creating a bright, crisp flavor that’s rounded out by the sweetness of the pears and the saltiness of Parmesan.

Before I send you off to the kitchen, though, I have to make a case for fresh, quality olive oil. We ran out of good oil two fennel pear salads ago, and the result was less remarkable. I bought a new bottle of my current favorite, Cobrancosa (get it at Con’Olio), and the fennel-pear salad sparkled once again.

Liquid gold, people.

From A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Makes four first-course servings or a light meal for two


  • 1 medium fennel bulb (10-12 ounces)
  • 1 small Asian pear
  • Fresh, quality olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • Crunchy salt, like Maldon, kosher, or fleur de sel
  • 1 small wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Prepare fennel by cutting off fronds at the base of the stalk. Use a paring knife to trim off bruises or brown spots on the outer layer of the bulb. Cut bulb in half — from root to stalk — and trim end of root.
  2. Use a sharp knife or a mandoline to slice the fennel 1/8- to ¼-inch thick. Molly says, “You’re not going for quite paper thin — that tends to make fennel watery — but you want it to be close.” Set fennel slices aside.
  3. Next, use an apple corer to remove and discard the core of the pear. Cut the pear in half from top to bottom and slice very thinly, just like fennel. Set aside.
  4. On a large plate, start assembling the salad in layers:
    • Start with a wide layer of fennel slices.
    • Drizzle lightly with oil.
    • Place a layer of Asian pear on top of the fennel.
    • Drizzle lightly with lemon juice, and season with salt.
    • Use a vegetable peeler to cut thin shavings of the cheese, and place them on top of the pear.
    • Repeat until you run out of ingredients.
  5. Finish with a good squeeze of lemon and a glug or two of oil, then garnish with a few shavings of Parmesan. Serve immediately, with salt and pepper to taste.

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