I spent last week “on travel” in Middle-of-Nowhere, PA. To give you an idea of the depth of the country vibe, the Holiday Inn where we stayed at was packed–PACKED–for Thursday night’s double threat of line dancing and–eeeugh–hot wings. You can imagine how thrilled I was with this situation. Fortunately, the resort town of Hershey is only 20 minutes away from the Middle-of-Nowhere, PA–who knew? And, while I’m not a fan of Hershey’s chocolate (see the lovely Cybele at candyblog for THAT story), their restaurants weren’t half bad. Being an inveterate foodie AND a total snot, I pushed hard for the higher end of the dining spectrum and we were rewarded accordingly. Aside from one horrifically salty pizza, everything was really quite good.

I’ve cribbed this salad of thinly shaved apple, fennel and arugula from them, though I think I’ve improved on it by adding additional layers of apple-y goodness (as any good acolyte of Suzanne Goin would) to the dressing. Using both apple cider vinegar and boiled cider adds a really nice depth and dimensionality to the whole.  And even the leftovers remained crisply tasty (if not quite guest-ready).

Apple-Fennel Salad with Cider Vinaigrette
Yield: 4 servings

1 bulb fennel
1 large eating apple (Fuji, Honeycrisp, etc.)
8 oz package arugula (a bit more if buying by the bunch)
1/2 c toasted almonds
Cider Vinaigrette (below)

Trim off the fennel stalks and slice as thinly as possible–a mandoline (WITH the guard, if you please) is really, really clutch for this. Set it as thin as possible and go to town. After halving and coring your apple, slice the same way.  In a large salad bowl, toss the fennel and apples with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Add the arugula, drizzle over a little more dressing, and toss vigorously to coat.  Always toss completely before adding more dressing–you’ll probably not need more, and you’ll certainly have leftover vinaigrette in this case. Portion onto plates and sprinkle the almonds over each. Serve immediately

Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Yield: 2/3 c

1 heaping tbs minced shallot
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbs apple cider vinegar (the hippie-dippie unfiltered kind, if possible)
2 tbs boiled cider
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3c c extra virgin olive oil

Using a blender (immersion or otherwise), blend first six ingredients till uniformly smooth. With the blender running, stream in the olive oil. Set aside till ready to use. (One can, of course, just chop the shallot really fine and then whisk everything together madly, but I like a vinaigrette so emulsified that it’ll NEVER break.)

Notes & Variations

As I’ve rambled before, boiled cider is just that, cider that’s been boiled down to a syrup. It does not go off (at least mine hasn’t) and is such a great, unique ingredient. In a pan sauce for pork chops, as a glaze for apple desserts, or in a sorbet or ice cream… yum. I get mine here.