I always wait for the first crates of blood oranges to arrive from Sicily. With any luck the first paper-wrapped Moro oranges arrive in late December, followed by the deep ruby Sanguinello that tend to reach the markets of northern Europe around the end of January. Inhabitants of the island of Sicily as well as their neighbors in southern Italy, are blessed with a harvest of both varieties throughout the winter, well into spring. The local Italian markets overflow with crimson oranges displayed amongst the dark green of wild spinach and Romanesco broccoli, contrasted by bunches of purple beets with their leaves attached, stacked against leafy escarole and juicy red peppers.
I like to peel the blood orange and eat it on its own because it is sweet, juicy and dramatic in color. My favorite way to assimilate the Sicilian orange at the kitchen table is in a salad made with raw sliced fennel and new olive oil. At first glance, this combination may appear to be an out of the ordinary mixture of sweet and savory. This traditionally Sicilian recipe is a very happy addition to winter’s sober collection of root vegetables, especially with the accent given by the crunch licorice flavor of fennel.
- 4 Sicilian blood oranges
- 1 fennel bulb
- 60 – 90 millilitres of extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt to taste
Peel the orange and remove the pith. Separate the sections of the orange and cut them in half, dropping them along with their juices into a bowl.
Wash the fennel bulb. Cut the dark green stalks as well as the root away from the bulb, peeling away the thick outer layer. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise. Lay the cut side down onto a cutting board, and slice each half lengthwise into paper-thin slices. This may require some patience, but the thinner the fennel slices, the better the salad will be. Pour olive oil over the vegetables and toss so that the olive oil coats the ingredients. Sprinkle sea salt over the salad and chill it thirty minutes prior to serving, allowing the fennel and orange to mix with the olive oil.
♦ Suggested combinations
Serve the orange and fennel salad as a starter with shavings of Pecorino cheese over the top. Add chives to the salad with thinly sliced red peppers and serve with grilled cod or monkfish. Toss a bunch of fresh mint through the orange salad, and serve it with garlic-grilled shrimp.
Before making the salad, scrub the oranges with a brush under cold running water. Grate the orange peels with a zester catching the thin orange curls into a small bowl. Stir the orange zest through a large pot of yoghurt, adding a few spoons of honey. Save the orange yoghurt for dessert, pouring it over fresh pear slices. Alternatively, save the yoghurt for breakfast pancakes.