This beautiful Arugula Salad with crunchy fennel, bright lemon, and freshly-shaved Italian cheese is one of my favorite recipes for lighter eating. Great served for lunch or as a side dish for a trattoria dinner at home.
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Simple Arugula Salad
Arugula is one of my favorite greens. Actually, in looking through my recipes, I sometimes wonder if I use it too much!
I also love it when it’s the star of the show, like in this simple and versatile arugula salad. All you need to have this beautiful dish on the table are 6 ingredients and 10 minutes!
Salad Greens: What You’ll Need
To start, you’ll need a big bowl of arugula leaves–6 well-packed cups worth. This will look like a lot of greens to start, but the arugula will wilt down a bit when dressed.
Is Arugula Lettuce? Arugula is a type of leafy green that belongs to the mustard family. It’s also called “rocket” and is known for its peppery flavor. As with most greens, the younger the arugula is at harvest, the milder its flavor.
To contrast the delicate arugula leaves, I like to add very thinly-sliced fresh fennel to the salad. For this recipe, you’ll use the crunchy bulb (the white/light green portion at the bottom), as well as the fronds (the feathery, dill-like stems at the top).
What Is Fennel? Fennel is a flowering plant that belongs to the carrot family. It has a bright, lightly sweet, licorice-like flavor. Most of the time, you’ll use the bulb and fronds in recipes. While the hollow stalks at the top look a lot like celery, they can be quite tough.
How to Dress and Finish Arugula Salad
I use just two classic ingredients to make the dressing for arugula salad: olive oil and lemon juice. Both the arugula and fennel have such beautiful flavors on their own, they don’t need much to bring them together in the salad.
Unlike when I make a vinaigrette, there’s no need to combine the oil and lemon juice in a separate jar or bowl to make an emulsion for this recipe. Just drizzle both the oil and juice over the salad, toss, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Simple!
Tip: Want to squeeze fresh lemons right over the salad without worrying about the seeds? I have this citrus juicer and love it. See it in action in the recipe video for this post.
Since there are so few ingredients at play here, it’s important that they be of the best possible quality. I use a fruity, lightly-piquant extra virgin olive oil (lately, a bottle my friends brought me from their trip to Greece), freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and freshly-cracked black pepper.
To finish the salad, shave Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese over the top. For the best flavor, shave the cheese yourself rather than buying pre-shredded.
You can find wedges of either PDO Parmigiano or Pecorino at the gourmet cheese counter. (Since I use it so often, I like to buy a big wedge from the warehouse club for a great price.)
Tip: To create pretty ribbons of cheese that will naturally crumble into the greens, I use a sharp vegetable peeler.
Serving Your Salad
For the best results, you want to serve the salad soon after tossing with the olive oil and lemon juice so that the greens don’t wilt too much. (So, if you’re prepping this one ahead, hold off on dressing the salad until just before you’re ready to serve.)
This arugula salad is one of my favorite light lunches, with a wedge of warm crusty bread on the side, or sometimes a few grilled shrimp on top. It also works well as a side salad for grilled or sautéed meats, poultry, and seafood.
Arugula salad is a classic accompaniment for Veal or Chicken Milanese. Serve it directly atop the warm, crispy fried cutlets for a taste of your favorite trattoria at home.
Arugula Salad with Fennel
- 6 cups baby arugula , tightly-packed
- 1 bulb fennel , cored and thinly sliced (reserve a tablespoon or two of fennel fronds for sprinkling over salad)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice , plus additional to taste, if needed
- kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
- wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
- In a large bowl, toss together arugula and fennel. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice, tossing to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Shave Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano over the top of the salad (I use a vegetable peeler), sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds, and serve immediately.