Putting chocolate behind us, (hey! Valentine’s day was just last week, did you forget already?) I’m looking forward to some serious palate cleansing. I’ve had this salad on my mind for weeks, and now that citrus season is in full swing, I finally got around to making it.
My craving for this salad was brought to a head during a recent book signing I attended for La Tartine Gourmande, the new book by beloved blogger Béatrice Peltre. I have been fortunate to get to know Béa a little—we both write for the Boston Globe and also share a favorite local woodsy walking place. Let me tell you, she is as lovely as her gorgeous, colorful photographs. In fact, if you are a blogger and an aspiring food photographer, you must add this book to your library. I literally lay awake most of the night after I brought the book home. Looking at the light-filled, drool-worthy pictures of her food, I was in turn acutely excited and inspired and then suicidally discouraged as a would-be photographer. No, I am not bi-polar, but that’s what happens when something really exhilarating comes along.
Béatrice Peltre has a Matisse-like sense of color and pattern that make you happy just looking at her photos. Her recipes are original, healthy, and reliable. In short: they work! They are imaginative! She brings her French sensibility to her recipes and a distinctive individuality to her style. You will certainly find many things you will want to cook to lift your spirits inside the cover. And even if you never cook anything from her book (which would be a terrible waste) you will certainly be cheered by the summery brightness on every page. One of the best ways to learn photography is to really study (and perhaps even copy as an exercise) photos you like. You can find her book here.
The salad in Béatrice’s book inspired the one I made (you will have to go to her book for her version). I purposely did not read her recipe closely, to avoid leaning too heavily on her idea. I know that it did not have fennel. But there is not much latitude here—fennel and oranges are a classic combination.
Fennel, like cilantro, is one of those flavors that arouse strong love-hate feelings. When it comes to the delicious crispy licorice-ness of this winter vegetable, I say: Bring it! I love it raw doused with a bit of olive oil and lemon, or baked in a tian with white wine, Parmesan and bread crumbs. Perhaps because it is underappreciated in this country, it seems exotic and therefore elegant; but it is quite common in Mediterranean cooking. Don’t be a hater.
Choose bulbs that are pale green and firm, with stalks and fronds still attached. Pass on split, yellowed, or spotty bulbs. The sometimes-tough outer layer, as well as minor brown spots, can be peeled easily with a vegetable peeler. Save a few of the feathery fronds to decorate your salad.
Fennel and citrus salad with citrus vinaigrette
Serves 2 to 3
This salad has perky winter flavors: fruit that is all at once sweet, juicy and tart, paired with crisp anise-scented fennel and crunchy radishes. First, prepare the fruit and set it aside. Save the juices to make the vinaigrette; then make the vinaigrette. Finally assemble the salad. It makes an ideal accompaniment to any plain fish dish, like Ken Rivard’s and Jody Adams’ broiled whole fish, for example.
For the vinaigrette:
Makes 2/3 cups dressing (save extra for another green salad)
1/4 cup citrus juice
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
Whisk the citrus juice, lime juice, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper together. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if you like.
For the salad:
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed (save a few fronds, freeze the stalks for making fish stock)
2 oranges, rind removed with a knife (see below), and cut crosswise into circles
2 blood oranges, rind removed with a knife (see below), and cut crosswise into circles
2 grapefruits, rind removed with a knife (see below), and cut into “supremes”
5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 handful of Italian parsley, leaves picked from the stems
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1. Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife and a lot of patience to slice the fennel very thinly. Cut out the core as you slice. Toss the fennel with 2 to 3 tablespoons of vinaigrette and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on 2 or 3 plates, or on one large plate.
2. Arrange the oranges and grapefruit over and around the fennel and top with the radishes. Sprinkle the parsley, fennel fronds, and pumpkin seeds over the salad. Drizzle with more vinaigrette and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
How to peel citrus with a knife to make "supremes"
The first time I realized there was another way to peel citrus I was so excited! No more pesky pith to ruin the look (and taste) of the fruit sections, or 'supremes'.
First, cut off the top and bottom of the fruit to expose the flesh.
Use a sawing motion with a sharp knife to cut away the rind and pith. Curve your knife as you go from top to bottom. Trim off any places you missed once you have gone all the way around the fruit. Cut it crosswise to make circles, or proceed to make 'supremes'.
Cut alongside each membrane to extract the section.
Another way to cut: after you cut along one side of a section, flip your knife angle and cut along the other side from the bottom up (this will go faster once you get the hang of it.)
Don't forget to squeeze all the juice from the 'carcass'. Use some of it for the citrus vinaigrette