It is a pleasure to sit down to a meal that begins with something bright and colorful.
The sheer physical beauty of a dish, enhanced by vibrant produce, may arouse the appetite before the aroma and flavor can confirm its excellence.
Colorful fruits and vegetables are easy to come by in the summer, when there are all manner of tomatoes, zucchini, melons and berries in every hue. In winter, it is more difficult. Pomegranate and persimmon are options to offset the season’s yellow-fleshed sweet potato or squash and dull greens and browns.
The bounty of winter citrus offers the most colorful assortment. We have grapefruit in white, pink and ruby red. There are sunny, bright navel oranges and blood oranges. Named for an interior that can range from streaky sunset vermilion to deep scarlet or burgundy, blood oranges have a red blush on the peel and a heady, almost tropical flavor. A slightly acidic variety of navel orange called Cara Cara is a pale salmon when you cut into it. Mandarins, satsumas and Minneola tangelos add even more color to the citrus spectrum.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, as they say. When it gives you a rainbow of citrus, make a salad. Fruit salad may sound like dessert, always a good idea, or something to accompany breakfast or brunch, but it can also veer savory. Avocado and citrus – usually grapefruit or orange – is a classic combination, and a good one, dressed with a shallot-y vinaigrette.
Citrus may be the treated the same way as a sweet, ripe tomato, with its natural affinity to salt and oil. Here, for instance, is a traditional Sicilian approach to a savory orange salad.
An assortment of multicolored oranges can be quite beautiful, though for this salad it is fine to use just one kind, with blood orange as the classic example. Arrange citrus slices on a large platter. Add thinly sliced fennel, celery and red onion for a tasty bit of crunch. Surround it with sturdy winter salad leaves, like escarole, if you like, or choose sharp arugula or watercress sprigs. It will still be great with no greens at all. Dress it assertively with fruity olive oil and tangy wine vinegar, and scatter briny olives and flaky sea salt before serving.
A harmonious combination of sweet and salty is what you’re going for. To take it up a notch, add some chopped anchovy or capers and a pinch of hot crushed red pepper, or some shavings of salty aged pecorino cheese.
Sicilian-Style Citrus Salad
Total time: 30 minutes
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
2 navel oranges
4 blood oranges
2 Cara Cara oranges
1 small grapefruit
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced, enough to make 1 cup
2 or 3 tender inside celery stalks, thinly sliced at an angle
Handful of olives, black oil cured type or green Castelvetrano type, pitted
Winter salad leaves, such as radicchio or escarole, optional
Large pinch of flaky sea salt
1. Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. It should be tart but not over-vinegary. Taste and add a little more olive oil if necessary.
2. To peel the citrus fruit, use a small serrated knife. First, cut off a thin slice of peel from the top and bottom of the orange, so it can sit flat and securely on the cutting board. Use a sawing motion to take off the peel, cutting from top to bottom, following the curve of the fruit. Remove only the peel and white pith, not the flesh of the orange. It should now be perfectly spherical and naked. Peel remaining oranges and grapefruit in this fashion.
3. Carefully slice peeled citrus crosswise. Arrange slices on a large serving platter in a random pattern, letting them overlap a bit here and there. Scatter onion, fennel and celery over top. Dot the surface with olives. Surround with salad leaves, if using.
4. Whisk vinaigrette, and spoon evenly over the salad. Sprinkle lightly with flaky salt and serve.
Yield: 6 servings