Autumn salad of fennel, walnuts & pomegranate

My recent visit to the Val d’Orcia is still heavily imprinted on my mind. The textures of the hills that look like pencil drawings, that first chill in the air and the first roaring fireplace of the season. Everything looked and tasted like autumn.

Just before we left we stopped for a visit to see the sisters of Puscina, a family-run flower farm between Pienza and Montepulciano. They took us on a stroll through their garden beds overflowing with wild flowers and heritage fruit trees – their specialty. The garden is looking so, well, seasonal, in all its pink, orange and deep maroon glory, which the sisters arrange in stunning bouquets.

puscina flower farm, TuscanyPuscina amaranth flowerspuscina pomegranate

I’m interested in the food side of things too, of which there is plenty. A passion for cultivating heirloom varieties means there are all sort of pumpkins in every shape and size imaginable, as well as chilies of all kinds. There’s a plump herb garden too. Mara bends down to pick some shiny, dimpled pomegranates off a small tree for me and when I wonder out loud about what kind of things we could collect from their garden to cook with, she immediately suggests an autumnal salad – pomegranate, nuts and radicchio, which is also in the garden.

The idea stuck in my head and one day, while I impatiently experimented with some thinly sliced fennel that I had on hand to take the place of radicchio, this salad came about.

autumn salad fennel walnut and pomegranate

Raw fennel salad is one of my favourite things in the world and I usually prepare it with blood orange and a few greeny-black olives, as they do in Sicily in winter.

Here, a combination of sweet grapes, tart pomegranate, soft and slightly bitter fresh walnuts (at the markets at this time of year they sell both fresh and dried walnuts, the fresh ones are softer, greener, if you will, and with a slight but delightful bitter and bite to them) and thinly sliced raw fennel with their fluffy tops makes a refreshing and colourful autumnal salad. This, along with a soft, smudgy wedge of goat’s cheese and some hearty wholemeal bread is the perfect lunch to me.

Pomegranate seeds

Autumn salad of fennel, walnuts and pomegranate

Choose fennel that are round and stout for eating raw in salad; they are male fennel and are sweeter. The elongated fennel bulbs are female and are a bit more tough and stringy, better suited to cooking.

For 2 people

  • 1 round fennel bulb
  • handful of walnuts in the shell
  • handful of grapes
  • a few spoonfuls of pomegranate kernels
  • salt flakes
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)

Rinse the fennel bulb and trim the bottom. If the outermost shell of the bulb is looking a bit scruffy or is particularly thick and tough, remove it, then thinly slice the rest of the bulb. Save the green tops for garnish, and place the sliced fennel in a bowl of ice water while you prepare the rest.

Crack open the walnuts and pull out the walnut meat. (Don’t have a nut cracker handy? Did you know you can easily open by holding two walnuts in one hand and squeezing them together. You can impress your friends with this trick, which makes you look superhuman. An old Italian boyfriend tried this on me, and yes, I was impressed until I realised I could do it too and I usually need help twisting the lid off the jam jar).

Slice the grapes in half, lengthways. Open up a pomegranate and tap the fruit to release the seeds.

Drain the sliced fennel, then tip them out onto a tea towel and pat them dry. Place in a bowl with the walnut kernels, pomegranate seeds and season with a pinch of salt flakes, a good glug or two of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. Mix to combine well then arrange on plates and serve.


  1. I love wildflowers. There used to be a big patch in the park near our London flat, they made me happy. The salad is just amazing, isn’t it? I must try it with grapes next. x

  2. Frank says:

    A true work of art.

  3. georgette says:

    I really have to try this, fennel is one of my favorite things in the universe and so are pomegranates. Thanks Emiko!

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