Fennel, arugula, radish, and Gorgonzola salad: NOT “just a salad … just a salad … just a salad”!

Fennel-radish-arugula-gorganzola salad 2, 31O09

You'd never see this beauty of a salad at The Restaurant from Seinfeld!

Like a lot of typical Americans, I grew up watching Seinfeld every night at 7:30. My family watched Elaine’s hair get poofier and poofier until finally it deflated into flat straightness, George grow more and more neurotic, Jerry get pickier and pickier about his dates (the gymnast … the close-talker … the low-talker – he had them all!), Neumann get closer and closer to actually going postal, and Kramer get more crazy and more cool. Through the nine seasons it aired, we amassed a vault of golden quotes which can be used for virtually any situation. Try it: pick a random moment during the day and pluck a Seinfeld quote out of your memory. I bet you that 95% of the time you’ll hit a winner! To me, the most fun quotes are those that relate somehow to food. Case in point:

Kramer, with a dark butter-tan: “Stick a fork in me, Jerry … I’m done!”

Soup Nazi: “No soup for you!”

George: “These pretzels … are making me THIRSTY!”

Guy at party to George: “Did you just double dip with that chip? You can’t double dip!”

Kramer: “”Who’s gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint — it’s delicious!”

Jerry: “The key to eating a black and white cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet, still, somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie. Look to the cookie, Elaine. Look to the cookie!”

And my all-time favorite … when Jerry is on a dinner date with the Girl With Man Hands, she orders a big steak and he says “I think I’ll just have the salad.” Then in his head he hears the echo “Just a salad … just a salad … just a salad….” Classic! In our house growing up, whenever someone announced they would only eat a salad for a meal (usually lunch, and this did happen quite frequently especially with my mom and older sister), along would come the obligatory retort “just a salad … just a salad … just a salad….”

Well, the line has stuck. Permanently. Now, every time I whip up a salad for lunch or dinner – and one of my favorite dinners happens to be a tuna niçoise salad, which is actually a very hearty meal in my opinion – I always hear Jerry’s guilty voice reverberating through my head, silently chiding himself – myself – for eating like a bird instead of choosing something a bit more meaty.

But you know what? I feel zero guilt, because I shouldn’t. Sometimes you just feel like only eating a salad, and there is nothing wrong with eating a plateful of vegetables. So yesterday this salad became my midday meal, paradoxically eaten at the start of the 1pm NFL game. I threw together a bunch of whatever fresh veggies were in my fridge, and they just happened to have rather strong flavors: peppery arugula, sweet anisette fennel, pungent radish, forceful Gorgonzola, and zesty whole-grain mustard. However, magically, they married in a feast of spice that was really very pleasing. It’s an easy salad to put together, including the homemade vinaigrette. This is my kind of salad – just a salad….

 

Salad of fennel, arugula, radish, and Gorgonzola with homemade whole-grain mustard vinaigrette

I never measure when I mix vinaigrettes; I just pour some olive oil and lemon juice into a jar, dollop in some mustard, throw in some salt and pepper and occasionally some herbes de provence, and hope for the best. I give the recipe here as an approximation using parts instead of actual amounts, so I recommend using the ratios to your taste and preparing to have a lot leftover. Also, walnut oil is a particular favorite of mine; topping this salad with a few chopped, toasted walnuts would really compliment that vinaigrette.

  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1/4 bulb fennel, thinly sliced to 1/8″ thick – plus reserved fronds, chopped
  • 2 radishes, very thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 part Dijon mustard
  • 1 part whole-grain mustard
  • 4 parts lemon juice
  • 6 parts olive oil, preferably kalamata or walnut
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fennel-radish-arugula-gorganzola salad, 31O09

In a small jar (I use emptied and washed jam jars and small canning

jars in lieu of cruets), mix together the mustards, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper. Screw on the jar’s lid and shake well to emulsify the vinaigrette. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Spread the arugula in a salad bowl. Layer the fennel slices, radish slices, and Gorgonzola atop the greens. Drizzle on vinaigrette to taste – a light touch is best here, I’ve found – and top with a sprinkle of the reserved fennel fronds. Enjoy “just your salad” tout suite!

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