I have no explanation for how the weeks and months have flown by so quickly that the last time I wrote in my collection of recipes was more than a season ago. In the meanwhile I have been caught up in the pragmatic whirlwind that goes with cooking for a living. A professional kitchen is not unlike an average household; it just has a tighter and more demanding time schedule with less opportunity for flexibility.
When I am overwhelmed with the straightforward line of thinking that goes with my work, the rational can actually overshadow the creative — and when that happens for too long I become decidedly restless. In order to stay down to earth I need the fuel that dreams are made of. . . .
As the necessities of the last work day of the week fade into the freedom of weekend, the peace of mind I need to tell food stories is slowly settling in.
What better way to move from one state of mind to the other than to write about a combination of ingredients as simple and rustic as the Sicilian countryside ? I am referring to the salad recipe below, made from the licorice-like fennel bulb, mixed with the sweet and sour beauty of the blood orange. I discovered this combination of flavors deep in the winter while wandering through Rome — but this tradition is most definitely Sicilian-grown.
Before fennel and oranges disappear from local market stalls for another year, I hope you will be inspired to make this crunchy-sweet-and-savory mix of colors and textures.
- 2 fennel bulbs
- 2 blood oranges
- 50 grams of Gaeta or Kalamata olives
- 50-75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- 100 grams of peeled and cooked langoustines
- a handful of fresh green herbs like mint . chervil and flat leaf parsley
Cut away the ends of the oranges with a sharp knife. Stand up each orange on a cutting board and cut away the peel, including the white pith. Slice the oranges in thick rounds, saving the juices and the orange slices in a bowl..
Wash the fennel bulbs in cold, running water. Cut the dark green stalks as well as the root away from the bulb, peeling away the thick outer layer. Save the bright green fennel tops. Cut the fennel in half . Lay the cut side down on a cutting board, and slice each half lengthwise into paper-thin slices with a sharp knife or a mandoline. This may require some patience, but the thinner the fennel slices, the better the salad will be.
Sprinkle sea salt over the fennel and orange slices and drizzle them with olive oil. Meanwhile wash and dry the garden herbs. Chop the flat leaf parsley very fine. Tear the mint leaves and separate the chervil fronds. Chop the fennel tops through the herbs and scatter the whole bunch of aromatics through the fennel and orange slices.
Chop the olives in half and toss them along with the langoustines (if using) through the other ingredients.
Season the salad with sea salt flakes and a pinch of dried red pepper. I like to serve the salad with crusty sourdough bread to soak up the sweet and savory juices created by mixing fennel with orange and olive oil.
This simple salad stands all on its own and yet it goes so well with every kind of grilled fish. I also really love to serve a steamed globe artichoke along with the oranges and fennel. The list is actually endless but my preference is to keep all things, including this, very simple.
The following recipe will be featured in the Dutch language in the May issue of Hutten Europe‘s Puur Magazine.