Thursday, February 11, 2016

QUICK BITE: Citrus, Fennel, and Olive Salad

In the dead of winter, when it's full-on season for soups and stews and slow-cooked meats, and root vegetables rule the local bistro menus...well, I enjoy indulging in languid winter cooking and eating rituals, but sometimes I could really use a little culinary levity. And I think if anyone understands this feeling, it's the Sicilians. They are blessed not only with a temperate island climate -- even mid-winter -- but also with an abundance of cheery citrus fruit throughout the winter, including the amazingly delicious and colorful blood oranges. 

Fennel is a vegetable that straddles root veg and refreshing stalk, an anise-perfumed crunchy salad base when raw, which is incidentally really the only way I like my fennel. Add to this pairing of fragrant crispness and sunny, sweet-tart citrus a bit of the local briny olive (Castelvetrano is my green Sicilian favorite), and you've got a trio made in heaven. I toss it all with a bit of extra virgin olive oil -- Sicilian if you can get your hands on it -- some sea salt (from Trapani would be ideal), and a little of the citrus juice that remains in the bowl over which you cut the blood oranges and grapefruit. It's sort of a naturally-occurring citronette, and it's all the dressing this salad needs. Finish it off with some of the fennel fronds as a bit of an herbal touch, and you're done. Unless, of course, you want to toss a few almonds or pine nuts onto the salad -- perfectly acceptable Sicilian nuts that work with the salad and add a little healthy fat and a little crunch into the mix. This salad is my antidote to the heavy midwinter food blues. And it's gorgeous on the plate! Buon appetito!

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