Hello my friends, how have you been?
This month I was going to publish a risotto recipe, but winter is so mellow in Rome, and I was inspired to remind you of this classic and so well-balanced Sicilian salad.
The ingredients are in season right now and at their peak. Fennel is juicy and crunchy. Oranges are sweet and aromatic, especially the blonde Washington navels and the red Tarocco. Preserved black olives are always available, but make sure to find good ones, plump, not excessively salty and devoid of that medicinal undertone of cheap canned olives.
The fennel’s herbal aroma, reminiscent of aniseed and licorice, combines beautifully with tangy citrus and the umami power of olives.
Over the years, I met several people at my cooking classes who don’t like fennel bulbs. However, I have often discovered they had never eaten them fresh and were delighted to enjoy this delightful concoction.
I suggest acquiring bulbs with the fronds, if possible, to sprinkle on top for decoration and to use the fennel as soon as possible as it tends to dry out in the refrigerator and loose texture and flavor. By the way, did you know that fennel is not a bulb? The edible part is actually made of enlarged leaf stems.
This is an exquisite and incredibly simple dish which does not need “improvement” by including salad leaves, herbs or fancy vinegars. Sorry NYT, but if we start adding oregano here, we’ll end up making pizza with pineapple. It’s a slippery slope!
In fact, as in almost everything in Italian cooking, the secret is to use fresh ingredients, your best extra virgin olive oil and to consume it as soon as it’s ready to serve to prevent wilting and release of juices
• 2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced, fronds reserved
• 3 tablespoon black olives, best quality
• 1 large orange, peeled, halved and sliced
• juice of 1/2 lemon
• 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• salt, black pepper
Cut the orange into thin slices, saving any juice that is released during the process to incorporate into the dressing.
In a salad bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice, the leftover juice of the orange, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a twist of black pepper. Add the sliced fennel bulbs and olives and toss. Taste for seasoning.
Transfer the fennel to a serving plate and top with orange slices and fennel fronds. Drizzle the rest of the dressing from the bowl and a little more olive oil, if needed.
Serve at once.
Serves 4 as a side dish or light appetizer.