Molly Stevens' Roasted Fennel, Red Onion, and Orange Salad

February 26, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A 3-ingredient salad that makes its own dressing -- and might make you forget it's still winter.

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In winter, when we don't know what to do with ourselves -- and our ingredients -- we roast. And that's great -- it's how we make otherwise stone-faced vegetables suddenly become interesting (oh hey, turnips): gloss them with oil and set their sugars alight in a hot oven; watch what happens. 

But this recipe takes that predictable success story and does it one better. Three of our winter standbys -- an orange, an onion, and a fennel bulb -- walk into an oven together, and morph into a warm winter salad that dresses itself


By carefully mixing and matching allium, citrus, and vegetable in one pan, Molly Stevens gets them to influence each other: orange seeps into fennel tips as they singe and curl; melting onions rub off on orange, and so forth. (This economy also keeps your operation minimal and clean -- you're using one cutting board, one pan, one knife, one wooden spoon.)


You won't need a vinaigrette. The complexity and balance that you'd eke out of a dressing is self-generated here, through dry heat and friction. All you need is a squeeze of the leftover top and tail of the orange, which Stevens has you set aside during your prep to guarantee placement in the genius hall of fame.

"The idea was to riff on the classic salad of shaved fennel with citrus," she told me. "I first tried roasting all the elements separately, but the flavors didn't come together enough." 


That's the power of roasting -- imagine how different this whole thing would taste if it were raw. One's a polar bear plunge; the other a sauna.



You might be nervous: sometimes when combining roasting vegetables willy-nilly, the scraps burn before that last unrelenting handful of cubes starts to soften. Have you ever had to sort through and re-file a tray of mixed, poorly cooked vegetables? I have.

But Stevens thought this all through for us -- her slicing instructions are exacting, and thereby a source of comfort. She doesn't strand us halfway, wondering which direction the slices are to go, and how thick. Her diligence is what makes a recipe this simple work. How else would we know how to break down a whole orange for roasting?

And yes, you're using the whole orange, pith and all, cut down into pretty fans with Stevens' guidance. "The orange was a real surprise," Matt Sartwell, owner and manager of Kitchen Arts & Letters cookbook store, told me, "As the peel cooks it gains a meatiness that really surprised me." 

Stevens serves it at room temp or warm, she says: "Never hot and never cold." Though it could be your dinner tonight (and tomorrow's sensible lunch), it's just the scandal your next winter dinner party needs.

Molly Stevens' Roasted Fennel, Red Onion, and Orange Salad

Adapted slightly from All About Roasting: A New Approach to A Classic Art (W.W. Norton and Company, 2011)

Serves 4

1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1 pound untrimmed)
1 medium red onion
1 small navel orange, scrubbed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Billy Miglore and Matt Sartwell at Kitchen Arts & Letters for this one!

Photos by James Ransom

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Karen G. February 20, 2015
Would there be any potential substitute for the onion, or could I just leave it out? Just curious.
food52fan February 21, 2015
This is one of my favorite recipes! I think you could leave out the onion if you don't care for it. Maybe try radicchio for color?!
food52fan April 3, 2014
Thank you so much for this wonderful salad recipe! It is a treat to the eyes and the taste buds! I am making it again and doubling the recipe. Like tonimmartin, My family found ourselves visiting the leftovers until they were gone!
sailingcats March 31, 2014
I made this for dinner - it was a nice change of pace. The next morning, however, I added it to my omelette with some cheese ( winter gouda ), and it was amazing! I will make this again just for breakfast :)
Maria March 15, 2014
Are you supposed to actually eat the orange peel?
karmaya March 16, 2014
yes... but a word of caution: all citrus peel should be well washed (I actually use hot water and soap and rinse well) before using zest or peel.. even organic lemons are probably coated with wax!
tonimmartin March 12, 2014
I made this last night and it is simply delicious. The two of us couldn't stay out of it and "picked at it" until it was all gone.
kapgaf March 9, 2014
This sounds amazaing and I will give it a try : I recently tried the smitten kitchen (cold) version which was really good.
Roberto T. March 3, 2014
I've just adapted this to make a roast salad of jerusalem artichoke, smoked lardons, thyme and blood orange. Quite a delicious idea using the roasted orange segments. But tread carefully with portion size, because those artichokes can have fairly potent side effects.
Fairmount_market February 26, 2014
Just when I was feeling entirely uninspired by roasted vegetables. This looks delicious.
ATG117 February 26, 2014
love this! and love how I can still be inspired by ingredients I use all the time but never thought to combine in this way.
karmaya February 26, 2014
brilliant. made this salad the other night, the raw version, with arugula - but it got cold again, so will have to try it roasted!
CravingSomethingHealthy February 26, 2014
Beautiful! and a great combination of flavors- can't wait to try this.
molly Y. February 26, 2014
that is the prettiest salad i ever done saw
EmilyC February 26, 2014
This is so pretty. Can't wait to try it, especially those roasted oranges.
Marian B. February 26, 2014
True story: I was a founding member of the short-lived polar bear club at my high school. Unrelated: I really like this salad.
Julie M. February 26, 2014
That's incredible. So is this salad.