Sicilian Orange Salad
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Before I knew there was fun to be had in food writing, I flipped through Jeremy Jackson’s Good Day for a Picnic at a bookstore. I was maybe 19, a fews year out from real, determined cooking, and still in the thick of my teenage writing voice. I thought both cooking and writing were crafts for the more developed, the kind of thing I could work toward, but only that. I didn’t know a cookbook could be casual; a recipe written like a post-it note to yourself. I bought the book and took it home.
I was taken first by the introduction, as Jackson describes a familiar feeling:
“I picked up a slice of orange. It was a colorful and floral wedge of citrus. I ate it and it was good and a bead of orange juice ran down my forearm and dripped off my elbow. Then I picked up another slice of orange and—pay attention here—stepped outside and strode three paces away from the door. There, in the warm sunlight of my side yard, I ate the second orange slice . . . Then I asked myself a question. Did the second orange slice taste better than the first?”
I’d had this sensation for years. On our back deck. In the orchard. In the garden picking berries. In the summertime, mostly, when the rain was at bay. Food is different outside, more complete. More honest maybe, unwound the way wine aerates out of the bottle. I think of this passage every time I eat an orange—naturally, it comes to mind when I make this salad.
I use both blood oranges and navel oranges, for the colors. The fennel and onions crunch, the salt of the olives curbs the syrupy fruit. If the oranges didn’t already, the mint leaves insist that this salad is eaten outside. It’s quick to make and eat, agreeably uncomplex. It calls to mind the Sicilian backdrop it comes from: refreshing in dry Mediterranean heat, bright and floral, seasoned finally by the outside air.
The following is the recipe I used, as found here.
2 navel oranges or blood oranges
1 large fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, cored, very thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion
16 small fresh mint leaves, torn in half
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
20 oil-cured black olives
Cut peel and pith from oranges. Cut between membranes to release segments.
Toss orange segments, fennel, onion, mint, and oil in large bowl to coat. Season salad generously to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer salad to platter. Garnish with olives and serve immediately.