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