Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad
As fall slips into winter, the open air markets in Turin, Italy push nature’s seasonal fruits and vegetables to make early appearances in the crates and boxes stacked inside each bancarella, or stand. Oranges, grapefruits, and clementines from Calabria and Sicily showed their waxy globes in the middle of October; bitter turnip tops called cime di rapa were available by the end of September; spiky artichokes, still not technically in season, have been around for weeks.
The sweet, crispy finocchio, or fennel, one of my newly-discovered favorites, entered the scene two weeks ago at the beginning of November. Last year’s discovery that I’ve waited impatiently for since the end of September is the sweet, soft kaki vaniglia, the persimmon, which has a designated corner in my refrigerator. These bombs of juicy, fruity sugar are an after dinner treat that could almost replace autumn pies. Almost.
According to the illustrated and finely detailed wheel of seasonal fruits and vegetables that I bought at Eataly, citrus fruits have just begun their yearly cycle in November. I pat myself on the back, since I resisted buying these until a few days ago. There was one mysterious exception in the form of yellow-green skinned citrus fruits, easy to peel and sour-sweet inside. They came from Calabria, and the hulking, big man that sold them ensured me they were sweet and ripe, never mind their greenness. The man who sold them seemed to have been plucked from another time and place, where people can and still do pick oranges in the fields all day for decent wages, the weakening winter sun warm on their backs. His nails were dirty and his accent thick (presumably Calabrian).
Once at a food photographer’s studio in Emilia-Romagna, the chefs and food stylists there prepared a tangy, salty, sweet salad from the South. It had been inspired by the chef’s Sicilian roots. It’s now one of my favorite meals, and I have to wait for these seasonal fruits and vegetables before I can enjoy it. It evokes flavors from a land where the sun shines across fields with rows and rows of citrus trees, bright orbs decorating the branches in a warm Christmastime.
The traditional olives to pair with this are black ones, but I had green, which I might actually prefer. Being the salt queen that I am, a shot of capers hits the spot, but I don’t know how “traditional” that is. Also, blood oranges knock the pretty factor up a notch for this already aesthetically-pleasing plate.
Sicilian Orange and Fennel SaladFor 2-4 people (depending on if using as a light lunch or as a side dish)
Ingredients1 large fennel
1 medium orange
¼ red onion, sliced finely (or less)
¼ cup black or green olives, pitted and sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Optional: 1-2 Tbsp capers, hot pepper
- Slice the fennel in half, and then core each half by cutting out the tough triangular sections at the bottom.
- Trim the ends, reserving green fennel leaves for garnish. Trim any bruised parts. Slice finely and set aside. Note: I also slice the very end green stems, because they’re strong in flavor and very crunchy. They may be too astringent for some tastes.
- Peel the orange. Setting it on its side, slice it very thinly so that each piece is divided into segments. Keep them as full round slices, or break them into halves or double segments.
- Layer the fennel, orange, and onion, then scatter the sliced olives over the top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with the fennel leaves. Add a dash of hot pepper and a sprinkling of capers if you so choose.