Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sicilian Fennel & Orange Salad with Olives

According to Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods on Mount Olympus and carried it to earth in a fennel stalk. The aromatic bulb has been a key player in Mediterranean cookery ever since. Fennel is a favourite winter vegetable in Rome, cooked or raw, but the addition of orange, recognized throughout Italy as fennel’s natural partner, is of Sicilian origin. The small brown-purple olives named for Gaeta, a picturesque port town in southern Lazio, are favourites in the capital for cooking and eating.

Simple and delicious, this vibrant Fennel & Orange Salad displays all the beauty of Sicilian regional cuisine: bright colors, exotic flavours, and an unwavering appreciation for quality ingredients: 
savoury black olives, segments of sweet juicy orange and crisp, licorice-flavoured fennel, thin slices of red onion and fresh mint, blended with a divine orange vinaigrette. Refreshing offered at the beginning of the meal, or as an antipasto, Insalata di Finocchio e Arancia is also excellent served along side Grilled Fresh Sardines with Lemon & Herbs.

Fennel & Orange Salad with Olives
Serves 4

1/2 small red onion
2 large oranges
1 large fennel bulb with fronds
12 dry-cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp minced fresh mint

Cut the red onion into very thin slices. Place in a bowl of cold water & chill for 15 minutes. This helps mellow the flavour.

Cut the ends off of the oranges. Sit the orange on one end & using a sharp knife, cut along the contour of the orange, removing the peel & pith. Working over a bowl, to collect the juice, cut the segments out of the oranges, removing any seeds. Place the segments in the bowl with the juice and squeeze any remaining juice from the cores.

Next, cut the fennel bulb in quarters lengthwise. Trim most of the core away from each section, leaving a portion in place to help hold the slices together. Using a sharp knife or mandoline, thinly slice the fennel bulbs into delicate thin pieces. Finely dice some of the fennel fronds and set aside. Drain the red onion.

To make the dressing, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice and kosher salt in a mixing bowl until emulsified.

Transfer the fennel and red onion to a serving platter. Arrange the orange slices on top and pour the orange juice over the salad. Scatter the olives and mint on top and drizzle the whole salad with the dressing, and garnish with fennel fronds. The salad can be made ahead of time, adding the dressing and mint just before serving with Grilled Sardines.