In my humble opinion, this is a perfect early spring salad, especially for those of us who live somewhere where the sky and the ground seem irreverent towards the date on the calendar, and to our yearnings for sunshine and fresh food. It's light and green, like spring, but calls for veggies that are available all year long: avocado, fennel, cucumber and a handful of sprouts. The light freshness satisfies my desire to move away from heartier winter veg like kale and squash, although it does little to curb my envy towards people living in warmer climates, filling their faces with legitimate springtime delicacies.
This recipe comes from award-winning British food writer and cook Nigel Slater's book Eat, in a section entitled On a Plate. In the intro to the section he says,"Stuff that goes pretty much straight on to the plate often includes a raw ingredient at it's heart - something so perfect you want to eat it in all its glory." In this recipe, I think the star is really the ricotta, especially if you make your own (which is surprisingly very simple) or you can get your hands on some that's really fresh. I love how this salad uses a delicate creamy scoop of quality ricotta as a starting point for a lovely light meal. In the case of this particular salad, there are shavings of sweet anise scented fennel, a slight creamy textural variation from the avocado and a bright, refreshing crunch from cucumber and lemon, but this really could go in a variety of directions. Roasted or fresh cherry tomatoes, arugula, smoked trout or salmon, prosciutto, zucchini, pine nuts, pistachios, mint or basil would all be welcome variations.
So I will continue to make ricotta salad and eat "spring like" meals until the ground finally yields dusty pink stalks of rhubarb, pungent wild leeks and grassy green stalks of asparagus. And when they finally, finally do appear I will most definitely feature them, in all their glory, on my plate.
CUCUMBER, FENNEL AND RICOTTA SALAD
From Nigel Slater's Eat ( the original recipe is in The Guardian here)
2 tbsp. lemon juice
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
3 sprigs of fresh dill (I also added a bit of mint)
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in chunks
Small bulb of fennel, shaved
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Several handfuls of sprouts
1 large scoop of ricotta (about 1/2 a cup)
Flakey sea salt
1 handful of shelled, smashed pistachios
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic and dill in a medium size bowl. Add in the cucumber, fennel and gently fold in slices of avocado. Let this sit for about half an hour.
Add in several handfuls of sprouts and transfer to plates. Top with a large scoops of ricotta, a sprinkle of pistachios and flakey sea salt. Serve with more lemon on the side.