I cannot remember the first time I ate a salad made with raw sliced fennel mixed with beautifully dramatic blood oranges. Surely it was while having lunch at our neighbor’s house just outside of Pozzuoli, close to the baroque city of Naples….
At first glance this combination may seem to be a strange mixture of flavors. Yet crunchy and savory fennel tossed, with sweetly-juicy orange wedges, is the perfect example of light, bright and fresh. In other words, the making of this salad makes the moodiness of winter weather in the midst of spring promises somehow disappear.
This salad is a recipe without really being a recipe.
- 2 Sicilian Moro or Sanguinello blood oranges
- 2 fennel bulbs
- 50 – 75 ml of extra virgin olive oil
- 50 grams of purple Taggiasca or Gaeta olives
- or the same amount of salt-cured Moroccan olives
- a touch of fleur de sel
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 bulbs. 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 on a cutting board, and slice each half lengthwise into paper-thin slices. Using a mandoline here is recommended but not required, as the thinner the fennel slices are, the better the salad will be.
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the ingredients and toss well to coat. Sprinkle sea salt (or sea salt flakes) over the salad and chill it fifteen to thirty minutes so that the fennel can soften and mesh with the citrus.
Just before serving, add a handful of Taggiasca or Gaeta olives to the salad bowl and serve simply as is, or in combination with grilled fish. Then again, a creamy burrata cheese works wonders here as well.
Serve the orange and fennel salad as a starter with shavings of Pecorino cheese over the top. For a bit more of spiciness, add thinly sliced red onion rings or even red chilis to with thinly sliced red peppers to this simple and rustic mixture. Toss a bunch of fresh mint leaves through the fennel and orange for a refreshingly green flavor.
See more lovely recommendations and stories from friends in Italy on my Instagram post all about the tradition of fennel and orange.
Notes on saving the orange zest
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.