I think it’s safe to declare Spring is finally here. Oh YAY! Winter has dragged on, and I’m fed up with the cold weather. I’m so ready for warmer days and lighter, fresher eating.
A while ago we had a surprisingly delicious Italian style cabbage salad as a side dish at this cute little Italian restaurant down the road from our place; Franco Choo’s. It’s our favourite place for a romantic dinner: tiny, dark and cosy, with an intriguing menu and sophisticated cocktails; walking distance from home and reasonably priced. It ticks all the boxes for us. If you live in these parts and haven’t been – go.
I couldn’t wait to re-create the salad at home. It surprised me because it wasn’t a pickled, Eastern European thing, or a mayonnaisey American thing. It was fresh and crisp, with a toasty crunch from pine nuts, and a salty tang from parmesan.
I didn’t want to copy it, and it’s not been on the menu the times we’ve been back. I wanted to create the tastes as I remembered them, and added red wine vinegar soaked currants for a piquant twist. Who knows, I might be completely off the mark, but everyone loves this version and we have it weekly now, usually as a side to grilled salmon.
Now Spring is here and warmer days and lighter meals are on the radar, it’s a good time to introduce it to you.
It may seem just a simple salad, but it’s so much more than that. I love the subtle layers of flavour: the fresh, bland crunch of the cabbage; the merest hint of aniseed from the fennel; the apple’s tartness; the sweetness of the peas; the bright sweet/sourness of the vinegared currants; the toasty crunch of the pine nuts and parmesan’s salty umami notes. And . . . it’s so blinking healthy!
I have to come clean with you though, I would usually use a red apple, and half and half shredded purple cabbage, but I wanted a clean, green image, so food styling won out. No need for you to faff about – use what’s available and in season. I reckon finely slivvered fresh mint would kick it up a notch too. Maybe I’ll try that next time.
- 1/4 head of cabbage - green or purple or a mix
- 1 head baby fennel or half a big one
- 1 crisp apple
- 1/2 cup peas - raw fresh, or lightly boiled frozen
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1/2 cup currants
- 1 cup finely grated parmesan
- Red wine vinegar
- Sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Dry toast the pine nuts in a medium hot pan, moving them about and making sure they don't burn. Put aside to cool.
- Place the currants in a small saucepan, and just cover with red wine vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the currants have absorbed most of the vinegar. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
- Pod the peas, or if using frozen, lightly boil, drain and cool.
- Finely slice cabbage, fennel and apple, preferably using a mandolin, or amazing knife skills if you don't have one. The success of this salad lies in the wafer thin delicacy of the ingredients.
- Combine the shredded vegetables, peas and macerated currants in large bowl and dress with 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and the lemon juice (approx. 2 tablespoons)
- Add the finely grated parmesan and give the whole lot a good toss to combine.
- Sprinkle over the toasted pine nuts.
- Taste and season with sea salt and black pepper if you fancy.
- Serve immediately.
- If you want to make ahead of time, squeeze lemon juice over the apple and fennel slices to avoid discolouration, but leave the salad undressed until ready to serve.