If you’re looking to shake up your salad routine, you’ll love this crunchy and bright fennel salad recipe! The crisp bulb is thinly sliced and tossed with earthy toasted walnuts, salty parmesan shavings, and a bright and creamy lemon dressing.
Not all salad needs lettuce! With its satisfying crunch and sweet anise flavor, raw fennel is an equally worthy protagonist.
I especially love fennel served raw. Simply shave or thinly slice the white bulb, which tames its crunch just enough so it’s delightfully crisp yet tender. A mandoline slicer will help you get delicate, paper-thin pieces, but a good sharp knife gets the job done just as well!
A lemony dressing with just a touch of cream adds the perfect amount of decadence (and feel free to leave out the cream if you'd like). Salty parmesan shards add richness and an umami quality, toasty walnuts give a nice crunch, and fennel brings a welcome freshness.
Table of Contents
- Ingredients for this Fennel Salad Recipe
- All About Fennel! Fennel FAQs
- How to Make this Fennel Salad Recipe
- Swaps and Substitutions
- What to Serve with this Fennel Salad Recipe
- More Recipes with Fennel
- Mediterranean Diet Starter Kit
- Lemony Fennel Salad with Shaved Parmesan and Toasted Walnuts Recipe
Ingredients for this Fennel Salad Recipe
This recipe requires only a few ingredients, but together they make a bright and zesty salad that is both simple and sophisticated. Here’s what you’ll need to make it.
- Toasted walnuts: About ¼ cup of walnut pieces. Toasting them first brings out their flavor.
- Fresh lemon juice and zest: About ½ lemon or 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of juice goes into the dressing. The zest gets mixed with chopped fennel fronds and sprinkled on top of the salad.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Good olive oil elevates this salad and cuts the sharpness of the lemon juice. Use a smooth, high-quality variety, like our Italian Nocellara.
- Cream: A tablespoon of heavy or light cream gives the dressing extra richness, though you can omit it and add a tablespoon more of oil instead.
- Fresh fennel: Two medium bulbs, cut in half, cored, and thinly sliced; plus about 2 tablespoons of the fronds.
- Parmigiano cheese: A vegetable peeler does a great job of making big cheese shavings. There are no good substitutes for rich, savory, imported Parmigiano-Reggiano, so be sure to seek out the good stuff (avoid pre-grated parmesan, as it tends to be very dry and dull). You’ll need about ½ cup of shavings for this salad.
All About Fennel! Fennel FAQs
There’s some confusion about fennel and anise. While the two plants are related, they are not the same. Anise is primarily grown for its seeds, which are used as a spice. Nearly all of the fennel plant is edible, from its fat white bulb to the feathery fronds. Here are a few more fun fennel facts!
- What does fennel taste like? Raw fennel bulb has a satisfying crunch and a bright sweet, mildly anise-like flavor. The plant’s seeds have a more robust licorice taste and are used to season sausages and salami, as well as cookies and cakes.
- Can you eat raw fennel? You can enjoy fennel raw or cooked—in Italy, it’s used as a palate cleanser and is thought to aid digestion. Fennel is also great roasted; the sugars in the vegetable caramelize and make it even sweeter. The heat also tames the licorice flavor.
- What to do with fennel stalks? Fennel stalks are usually too tough and fibrous to eat, but they have loads of flavor. I like to add them to vegetable, chicken, or fish broth.
- What to do with fennel fronds? Fennel fronds are the green, feather-like wisps at the top of the fennel stalks. Don’t toss them! Chop them finely and use them as a garnish to scatter on salads, stews, or grilled meats or vegetables.
- How to prevent fennel from turning brown? Like apples or artichokes, fennel tends to discolor once it’s cut. Plan on serving (or cooking) it soon after you slice it. If it needs to sit around for a few minutes, place it in a bowl of water with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
How to Make this Fennel Salad Recipe
Most of the prep work for this fennel salad can be done ahead of time. Simply store the toasted walnuts in a covered container at room temperature, and store the dressing covered in your refrigerator. Then slice the fennel and toss everything together just before serving.
Get Everything Ready
- Toast the walnuts. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Spread ⅓ cup walnut pieces out on a sheet pan and, when the oven is hot, bake them for about 7 minutes, until they are fragrant and have turned a shade darker.
- Make the dressing. Zest the lemon and set the zest aside, then slice the lemon in half. Squeeze out 1 ½ tablespoons of lemon juice into a small bowl. Whisk in ¼ cup good Italian extra-virgin olive oil until the mixture is emulsified. For extra richness, whisk in a tablespoon of heavy or light cream. Taste and add another ½ tablespoon of lemon juice if needed. Season the dressing with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Just Before Serving: Slice the Fennel and Dress the Salad
- How to cut fennel. Trim the bottom off 2 fennel bulbs and slice off the stalks. Save the fronds to use later in this recipe and freeze the stalks to use when making homemade broths or stock. Stand the bulb up on the cutting board. Cut it in half lengthwise from top to bottom. Use a small paring knife to make a v-cut and wedge out the core (the thick white part) at the bottom of each half. Lay the halves cut-side down and slice them thinly into half-rounds. If the bulb is large, cut each half once more into quarters. Thinly slice the quarters either lengthwise or crosswise, however, you prefer. Place the slices in a shallow serving bowl or deep plate. If using a mandoline, set it to the thinnest setting, take one half at a time, press it into the guard, and run the fennel half up and down the blade. Repeat with the second half.
- Dress the fennel salad. Sprinkle on half the toasted walnut pieces on top. Use a vegetable peeler to shave about ¼ cup of Parmigiano cheese over the fennel. Pour over the dressing and toss well until the fennel is nicely coated with dressing.
- Finish and serve. If your fennel includes the feathery darker green fronds near the top, finely chop them and mix with the reserved lemon zest. Sprinkle this over the salad, then garnish with the remaining walnut pieces, more shaved cheese, and a few grindings of pepper.
Swaps and Substitutions
You can play around with this shaved fennel salad recipe, switching up the flavor to fit your tastes and what you have on hand. Here are some ideas:
- Pine nuts: Substitute the walnuts with lightly toasted pine nuts. Pine nuts have a sweet, mild flavor that goes well in this salad.
- Walnut oil: Replace half or all the olive oil with walnut oil. Its rich, buttery flavor gives the salad a luxurious touch.
- Capers or green olives: To add a briny element, sprinkle in a ¼ cup of rinsed tiny capers or chopped green olives.
- Cheese: Swap the cheese for shaved ricotta salata for a milder option, or Pecorino for an extra sharp and salty kick. You can also go creamy with crumbled feta or chèvre.
What to Serve with this Fennel Salad Recipe
When a salad is this crunchy and bright, it takes on the role of a condiment. Serve this shaved fennel salad alongside (rather than before) roast meat and it will feel like an essential part of every bite! Try it with classic roast chicken, roast chicken with citrus and honey, or juicy pan-seared pork chops.
For a vegetarian entree, I love the crispness of the salad with a tender, meaty vegetable like stuffed portobello mushrooms.
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Lemony Fennel Salad with Shaved Parmesan and Toasted Walnuts
- ¼ cup roughly chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream or light cream (optional)
- 1 large lemon, juiced and zested
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large fennel bulbs, halved, cored, and thinly sliced; plus 2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
- ⅓ cup shaved parmesan cheese
- Toast the walnuts. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan in one layer. When the oven is hot, bake until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Remove and let cool.
- Make the dressing. In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together the olive oil, cream (if using), 1 ½ tablespoons of the lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice, olive oil, or salt if needed.
- Dress the salad. Place the fennel in a shallow serving bowl or deep plate. Add half of the cooled walnut pieces and half of the shaved parmesan. Just before serving, pour the dressing over and toss gently to thoroughly coat the fennel.
- Finish and serve. In a small bowl, mix the chopped fennel fronds with the lemon zest and sprinkle over the salad. Garnish with the remaining walnut pieces and parmesan shavings and grind a touch more pepper on top. Let the salad rest just a minute or two before serving.
- What are fennel fronds? Fronds are the hair-like green frills that grow out of the top of the bulb of fennel. If your fennel did not come with any fronds attached, don’t fret! They add a delicate anise flavor, but this salad is also delicious without them.
- Heavy cream adds an extra luxurious quality, but you can swap in a tablespoon of olive oil in its place.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams, and spices.