Fennel Salad with Grapes, Olives, and Dried Figs

Preparation time: about 20 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings (depending on whether it is a main or a side dish)
You'll need to spend some time preparing all the various loving touches that make this summer salad so special. Is it worth it? No question! This is currently my favorite summer lunch. Served with some whole grain bread, it's the perfect weight for a summer entrée. And the fruit makes it so satisfying, dessert will be the farthest thing from your mind.

NOTE: The amounts are all approximate and flexible. This is a very improvisational recipe.

1 small head butter (Boston) lettuce, cleaned and spun dry
1 medium-sized bulb fennel, sliced paper thin (A mandolin works best.)
1 1/2 cups Red Flame grapes, cut in half
About 15 oil-cured or Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
5 or 6 dried figs, cut into small pieces
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste
1/2 cup blanched, slivered almonds, lightly toasted (optional)
A small piece of hard cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago), shaved into thin slices with a vegetable peeler

  1. Tear the lettuce into bite sized pieces into a bowl. Add the fennel, grapes, olives, and figs, and toss.
  2. Drizzle in anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, and toss until everything is lightly but thoroughly coated. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and toss again. Refrigerate until serving (but not longer than about 1 hour).
  3. Just before serving drizzle in some fresh lemon juice to taste (about 1 tablespoon is my taste) and sprinkle in the almonds and cheese shavings. Toss quickly but thoroughly, and serve right away. Pass the pepper mill for those who want a spicy salad.
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