We have, thankfully, come a very long way from the seventies of our childhoods where a salad meant hard, tight iceberg lettuce, tasteless tomato wedges and, in many sad households, a mound of grated carrot and/or thick slices of warty cucumber, skin and all. Geez, they were a punish. You had to chomp your way through them for the sake of your health but they certainly weren't anything to do with pleasure. In fact, the whole idea of salad being anything other than a chore would have been seen as faintly suspect and probably foreign.
Now, of course, even supermarkets sell bags of mixed leaves, as well as heads of butter lettuce, radicchio, endive and watercress. We would all be utterly at sea without rocket and baby spinach. We eat salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as side dishes and as stand-alone main courses.
It takes a couple of minutes and very little forethought to elevate a few mixed leaves to something memorable. This salad takes one pear, one bulb of fennel and a small wedge of Parmesan and is quietly, elegantly, perfect.
1 pear, not over-ripe
1 fennel bulb
2-3 big handfuls of mixed salad leaves (we used radicchio, rocket, baby cos)
40g shaved Parmesan (use a vegetable peeler)
Parmesan croutons (optional, to garnish)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and pepper
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Remove the core from the fennel and shave it finely by hand or on a mandolin.
Remove the core from the pear and slice thinly - If not eating straight away, squeeze lemon juice over the fennel and the pear.
Toss the ingredients together or layer ingredients on a platter.
For the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients - or shake them in a jar.
Gently toss the salad with just enough dressing to coat and top with toasted croutons if using.