In Barcelona last spring, I enjoyed an olive oil tasting in the back of a little shop called Oli Sal in the Gracia district. As I was leaving, almost as an after thought, my hostess described a simple orange dessert with extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, and chocolate. It sounded like one of those brilliant, no-brainer dishes we all like to have up our sleeves. It also struck me as easy and refreshing.
A few days later, I had a chance to test the salad on a whole tribe of family and friends at a fabulous finca in the foothills of the Sierra Tejeda National Park—just imagine a grand farm house with a swimming pool, loads of bedrooms and bathrooms, gorgeous views, a big well-appointed kitchen, and dinners in the courtyard! The orange salad, not to mention the finca, was hugely enjoyed by all.
The salad's now part of my repertoire. It’s the perfect light dessert after a rich meal, and certainly a conversation starter if your guests or family are new (or newish) to the idea of olive oil in desserts. Sometimes I make it just for me, with a single orange! Try it now, while oranges are in season. If you're lucky enough to have a bottle of olio nuovo—fresh pressed and unfiltered oil from the 2016 olive harvest— use it here, as you’ll really taste the olive oil.
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Now, a note about preparing the oranges. Even if you’re an over-achiever, chef-in-training, or just trying to impress your mother-in-law (that actually worked for me many years ago)— don’t even think about supreming or segmenting the oranges. Just cut away all of the peel and pith with a nice sharp knife as though you are going to supreme them, but slice them thinly instead. Slices are more beautiful than segments, and they offer more surface area for drizzling with oil and sprinkling with salt and chocolate, which also means every bite can be a perfect bite.
I try hard not to overthink things, but here are a few more tips based on my having done exactly that! The dish is as much about good olive oil as it is about good fruit and chocolate, and the lively balance of sweet, tangy, and bitter you can achieve with these elements. Use the good finishing oil in your cupboard, rather than the olive oil you use for cooking. If you’re an olive oil geek (like me) with a selection of extra-virgin oils in the pantry, save your mild, buttery oil for a subtler dish and your ultra-robust and peppery oil for food with stronger flavors. For the oranges, you want something in between: On an imaginary scale of 1 to 10—where 1 is mild and buttery and 10 is very robust—a 6 or 7 plays well with the sweet, but tangy oranges and the dark chocolate. Speaking of chocolate (and how could I not), I find a dark chocolate with 70-72% cacao balances the other flavors perfectly.
Once you tried this dish you can throw the recipe away and just do it by eye, as I do. I suggest passing the salt, olive oil, and maybe even the chunk of chocolate and grater around the table so people can add a bit more of whatever they like.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).
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