This is definitely one of my go to salads each winter once my blood oranges are ready to be harvested. The salad typical of Sicily, makes for an dramatic presentation and it couldn’t be easier to compose.
The flesh of the blood orange is deep garnet in color, hence the name; the flavor is much like that of the standard navel orange, but slightly bitter and somewhat less acidic. The citrus, often referred to as Sicilian Blood Orange, is native to the Mediterranean yet also grows in southern California. As a young child, the discerinig La Levitt’s first request when in Italy was invariably a tall glass of jeweled colored blood orange juice.
Growing up, finocchio was a mainstay in Italian American homes; although the flavor is decidedly different, it was often referred to as the Italian celery. The bulbous portion of the fennel was sliced and served on an antipasto platter, while the feathery fronds were reserved for garnishing chicken, fish, and salads. Fennel is said to have medicinal powers and nibbling on a piece can generally serve to settle an upset stomach.
Fresh fennel with its bright anise flavor pairs perfectly with the mildly acidic blood orange, adding just the right amount of crunch to the salad. A smattering of thinly sliced red onion, cured black olives, a drizzle of flavorful olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper are all that is needed. If blood oranges are not available, by all means substitute navel oranges. I have added a small amount of balsamic vinegar immediately prior to serving, but honestly the olive oil and sea salt are the key elements that compliment the dish. The Fennel, Blood Orange and Onion Salad is a mainstay at Passover, adding a colorful and festive element to our Mediterranean Seder.
- 3 small to medium sized fennel bulbs with fronds intact
- 1 medium red onion
- 8 small blood oranges or 3 to 4 navel oranges
- Large grained sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 12 salt cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
- 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar, if desired
- Prepare the oranges one at a time first slicing away the top and bottom, reserving any top or bottom pieces which may contain some residual pulp for later. Using a pairing knife with a sawing motion, slice down the sides of the orange a small section at a time, trying to remove the white pith, but not cutting into the the actual fruit. Continue turning the fruit until you have removed the skin and pith from the entire orange. Repeat until all of the oranges have been peeled in this way. If there are small portions of the pith on the fruit, carefully remove with the sharp pairing knife, taking care not to mangle the pulp. Slice each of the blood oranges into three to create discs; if using navel oranges which are larger, you will have 6 to 7 slices depending upon the size of the orange. Set aside.
- Thinly slice about ¼ to ½ of the red onion, using your taste for onion as a guide. Place in a strainer and rinse with cool water. Drain and lay on a paper towel lined plate.
- Slice the stalks of each fennel bulb off, reserving for later. Trim the root portion of the fennel bulb and remove the first layer as this is generally tough. Slice each fennel bulb into half and thinly slice each half, setting aside.
- Select a serving plate or platter and arrange the thinly sliced fennel over the surface. Follow by layering the desired amount of thinly sliced onions over the fennel. Place the discs of sliced orange over the bed of red onion. Scatter the coarsely chopped oil cured olives over the center of the salad.
- Remove some of the fronds from the fennel stalks and decorate the salad as you like. Season with coarse grained sea salt and freshly ground pepper, followed by a drizzle of the olive oil. Take the reserved top and bottom segments of the orange and squeeze over the top of the salad to dress with any juice which may remain, discard. The salad is actually ready to serve as balsamic vinegar is not a Sicilian product. If you decide to include the balsamic, carefully drizzle the tablespoon over the surface of the salad - please refrain from adding more balsamic. This is a dish of delicate balance and it would be a shame to mask it with too much acidity,