One of the many well catalogued glories of Italian cuisine is its simplicity. My wife and I tried this dish during a trip to Italy, at a lovely little restaurant in Florence. We had been trying for hours to find a place that was a little sheltered from the droves of other tourists that had descended on the city on that fine April weekend, but sadly that was not to be (I seem to fall into the high and mighty trap of feeling like a local when on holiday, and look at other tourists with almost a sense of disdain). But the place was so great (we sat outside) and the owner was so friendly (she was personally waiting on us) and the food so delicious that all (misguided) tourist territorial issues melted away.
I was on a mission to eat a bistecca fiorentina, and had practically been dreaming about this moment all day. But then when our starters came, it was almost like we got sucker-punched by that salad, it’s that good. Sadly the starter set the bar so high, that when our mains came, they were perfectly positioned for disappointment.
Anyway, the salad was soooo good and fresh and simple, that my wife and I vowed to try and recreate it on our return to Dubai. Sadly, it didn’t come with an at home visit to the Ufizzi gallery and walks along the Florentine Piazzas, but resulted in an almost perfect replica of the same brilliant dish.
Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter)
4 Medium Sized Zucchinis
2 Fennel Bulbs
About a large handful of Parmesan shavings
1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp of truffle oil/truffle infused grapeseed oil
2-3 tbsp of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Using a mandolin on a 3.5mm julienne setting (again, if you can julienne zucchinis to that size manually, please teach me how!) slice the zucchinis and add to a mixing bowl. Using a sharp knife, chop the fennel bulb into even slices, about 3.5-5mm thick, and add to the bowl as well. Pour in the olive oil and the truffle oil, as well as the pine nuts and mix all together. Make sure you have a taste to see if the truffle comes through, because different oils have different potency. Season the salad with salt and pepper, plate it in a way you find appealing (I opted for an open plate rather than a bowl) and toss on the parmesan shavings. Nothing simpler, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
A couple of notes:
The original salad we tried in Florence didn’t have fennel, I thought it would add a nice dimension to the flavour profile, my wife didn’t agree (although she swears she liked the salad anyway, she just liked it better without the fennel)
The original salad use longitudinally sliced zucchinis rather than julienned, I think the juliennes make the dish look and taste more appealing.