Regional Italian Food

Fennel and Blood Orange Salad

By • November 19, 2013 • 4 Comments

Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home. 

Today: A classic Sicilian winter salad -- and the star of your next dinner party.

Blood orange salad from Food52

This traditional Sicilian salad changes from household to household. In its most basic version, it consists simply of blood oranges, sliced and seasoned with a good pinch of sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. More elaborate versions include one or more of the following: green or black olives, anchovies, fresh chilli, sliced green onion, even smoked fish. This is somewhere in between -- thinly sliced fennel with its tops add crisp freshness, and the olives add pops of saltiness to the sweet oranges. It's a wonderful palate cleanser to pair with heavier, heartier winter dishes, like a roast -- or to serve in between courses.

A recipe as simple as this one requires very little time to prepare; you only need to pay a bit of attention to the ingredients. 

Blood orange salad from Food52

The oranges, with that tell-tale blood-hued pulp, are the real heroes of this dish -- so they should be perfectly ripe, sweet, and heavy in your hand. Perhaps even a bit squidgy. And if they're in season, they will be all those things. Cut away the skin, then, with bright pink juice running everywhere, carefully cut out small segments.

Now, for the fennel. It should be crisp, bright, and perky, with a tuft of soft, feathery fronds. You'll use those as garnish. Choose fat, round fennel rather than the slender ones -- the former are male, the latter are female. The difference? The male bulbs are tastier, sweeter, less fibrous. I'll never forget a winter's morning I spent at a market in Florence, when a lovely old nonna stopped me in my tracks to tell me about the gender of fennel. 

In terms of olives, you can use whatever you like as long as they are good -- really good -- olives. None of those bland, out of a tin things. Deseed or leave the seeds in, as you like. If you can, make or can get your hands on oven-baked olives -- inky black with shrivelled, leathery skin and a deep, intense flavour, these are excellent in this salad.

Blood orange salad from Food52

Herbs could go well here too; try fresh rosemary, the leaves picked and scattered, or fennel seeds to enhance that aniseed flavour of the fennel bulbs. Sliced almonds or pistachio nuts could add texture. If you like the sweetness, some raisins, soaked until plump combined with lightly toasted pine nuts wouldn't go amiss. The options are plentiful. But keep in mind that the beauty of this dish is in its simplicity and the harmony of flavours – choose well and keep it to a handful of ingredients.

Fennel and Blood Orange Salad

Serves 4

2 fennel bulbs, sliced finely
2 blood oranges, peeled and sliced, reserving half an orange for juice
A handful of good quality olives, green or black
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of sea salt 

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Sicilian, salad

Comments (4)

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8 months ago Rachel

Do you have any winter chicory salad recipes, or could you sub chicory for the fennel?

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8 months ago Emiko

This is lovely with chicory, you could substitute it for the fennel (or include it) and I think an anchovy or two here (salted rather than in oil if you can get it - give it a very good rinse before using!) would be great - saltiness goes really well with the slightly bitter flavour of the chicory!

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8 months ago Angela

I would love to buy blood oranges, but we never see them in our grocery stores. Unless you live in a large city, they are not available. Any ideas?

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8 months ago Emiko

If you can't get blood oranges (they do have a short season), try with regular oranges - as sweet and juicy as you can find.