Caramelized Fennel Salad with Blue Cheese and Red-Wine Cherries

What do you get when you mix together fresh ingredients from all different seasons? This savory salad of overlapping textures and distinct flavors.
Photo by Stephen DeVries / Food Styling by by Erin Merhar

Courtesy Michael Toscano, chef/owner, Le Farfalle, Charleston, SC

At Charleston, South Carolina’s Le Farfalle, Chef/Owner Michael Toscano serves creative Italian cuisine interpreted with local ingredients, from white shrimp and hand-milled grains to the fennel showcased in this salad. Smaller, more tender bulbs of fennel, no larger than your fist, are preferred for this two-way treatment.

Bread Salad with Carrot-Top Pesto
  • 1 cup light- to medium-bodied dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¹⁄₃ cup Amarena cherries (or fresh or frozen sweet cherries), drained and halved
  • 4 small fennel bulbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 large head butter lettuce, washed and separated into individual leaves
  • Champagne Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • ½ cup crumbled blue cheese

In medium pot over high heat, boil wine and vinegar until reduced by two-thirds. Add cherries, and set aside.

Trim stalks from fennel, reserving fronds. Vertically slice 2 fennel bulbs into ½-inch-thick pieces. Using mandoline or very sharp knife, shave remaining bulbs as thin as possible.

In large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter with oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Add fennel slices in single layer and cook, without moving, until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Flip slices and repeat. Set aside.

In large bowl, toss lettuce with vinaigrette to lightly coat. Divide among 4 plates. In same bowl, toss raw and caramelized fennel in remaining vinaigrette, and arrange over lettuce. Divide blue cheese and cherries among the plates. Garnish with fennel fronds. Serves 4.

Champagne Vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fine-chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Directions for Champagne Vinaigrette

Whisk all ingredients together just before use.

Pair It

Vignobles Bulliat 2015 Nature (Morgon). “This organic Cru Beaujolais warms the heart and senses, and is a perfect complement to the savory elements of this salad,” says Cynthia Goddeau, sommelier at Le Farfalle. “Red plum and rose aromas start the juices flowing, while the palate of wild cherry, bright acidity and soft tannins allow the sweet fennel and the tang of the cheese to stand
at attention.”

Published on February 21, 2018
About the Author
Nils Bernstein
Contributing Editor, Food

A fan of sweet wines, sour beers, and old-school Rioja, Bernstein is an exhaustive traveler in search of new and unsung chefs and restaurants, innovative wine and food pairings, and eating and drinking at the source. In addition to Wine Enthusiast, Bernstein has written for Bon Appetit, Men’s Journal, New York Times, Men’s Fitness, Hemispheres, and Kinfolk, among others.


The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories