I don’t know about you but I’m ready for a little sunshine right about now. While Christmastime in New York is one of my favorite stretches of the year, I always feel very much in touch with my California roots around mid-January, ready for a break from the dreary winter weather. Unfortunately I’m not able to leave town at this time, and I’m more than just a little bit jealous of my friends who have plotted various escapes to Hawaii and other tropical climes. (You know who you are.) Since I have no beach vacation in my immediate future, I’ll have to get my sunshine in citrus form. My Orange Fennel Salad is almost as refreshing as a sunny holiday. Almost.
I love the wide variety of citrus fruits available at this time of year, and I always have a bowl of little clementines on my table. Floral Meyer lemons practically beg to be incorporated into decadent desserts, and I’ve been enjoying the most succulent ruby red grapefruits every morning. I’ve gone wild about these rosy Cara Cara oranges, also known as red navel oranges, and their pinkish-orange flesh is unbelievably sweet with hints of raspberry and cherry. Blood oranges may look like regular navel oranges on the outside, but their ordinary looking peels belie the brilliant purple fruit within.
I was getting in touch with my inner Top Chef, meticulously peeling the oranges by following the shape of the fruit with my knife so that there was no white pith left. But you don’t have to be that high-maintenance if you don’t want to. Peel your oranges any way you like, slice them crosswise into pinwheels and you’re on your way.
When you’re working with oranges that are bursting with natural sweetness, it’s good to have a contrast of flavors and textures to bring them into balance at the table. Crisp paper-thin shavings of raw fennel are the perfect foil to the juicy citrus flavors, adding a refreshing crunch and piquant licorice-like note to offset the orange slices. I had some Picholine olives on hand that added an extra zing to the oranges and fennel.
I’ve been enjoying orange fennel salads for lunch while sitting near my sunny windows each afternoon. The visual alone of these orange slices makes me happy, reminding me of spectacular sunsets I’ve enjoyed on some west coast beaches. I’m going to pretend that I’ll be experiencing those ocean sunsets myself soon enough, but for now I’m glad to have a salad like this that makes my taste buds smile.
One Year Ago: Scallops with Lychees and Champagne Sauce
ORANGE FENNEL SALAD
This recipe is more of a loose guideline than anything, one of those salads in which the ingredients don’t have to be strictly measured. Sometimes I throw in a few paper-thin slices of red onion for additional bite.
4 oranges, peeled (I like to use a combination of navel oranges, Cara Cara oranges and blood oranges)
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed
¼ cup green olives (such as Picholine), pitted and cut in half
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the peeled oranges crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices and place in a large mixing bowl. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb into paper-thin shavings. Add the fennel and olives to the orange slices.
Mix the extra-virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar together in a small bowl and pour over the salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper and divide among salad plates. Serves 4.