Orange and Fennel Salad

Insalata di arance e finocchi (Orange and Fennel Salad)

In antipasti, contorno, Fall, Sicilia, Winter by Frank24 Comments

It might be the season, but coming right on the heels of our recent post on Sausages and Grapes, today’s post once again features a mixture of sweet and savory ingredients. Whereas that post combined fruit and meat, today we’ll take a look at a fruit and vegetable combination from Sicily: Orange and Fennel Salad. To my mind, it has everything you could hope for in a salad: it’s beautiful, healthy and delicious.

Orange and Fennel Salad is also quick and easy to prepare.  All it is, after all, are slices of orange and fennel arranged on a plate—’composed’ in culinary lingo—and dressed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, perhaps with few olives and fennel fronds for garnish. Both of the main ingredients in Orange and Fennel Salad, however, need to be prepped in a certain way, so I’ve included step-by-step photographic directions here to show you how.

Salads are usually classified as contorni, or side dishes, in an Italian meal, but when it’s presented decoratively as we’ve done here, Orange and Fennel Salad can stand alone as an antipasto or, as its own salad/fruit course. It’s a refreshing way to end a substantial meal.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 people

  • 3-4 fennel bulbs, preferably not too large
  • 4 or 5 oranges
  • Best quality, extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few black olives for garnish (optional)

Directions

First, prep the fennel: Take your fennel bulb and inspect it. The one I’m working with today is rather large and bit discolored, as you can see—not uncommon for most fennel you will find in supermarkets. It’s hardly ideal, but with some careful trimming and slicing, we can turn this rather sad piece of vegetable into something salad-worthy.

Orange and Fennel Salad-1

Trim the fennel bulbs top and bottom.

Orange and Fennel Salad-2

If you’re working with a larger, older fennel, particularly one that is spottled like this one, remove the outer layer. Now cut the bulb into quarters:

Orange and Fennel Salad-3

then slice each quarter very thinly from top to bottom, making sure that each slice has a bit of the base, which will hold the slice together:

Orange and Fennel Salad-4

Second, prep the oranges: Trim them top and bottom.

Orange and Fennel Salad-5

Then take a paring knife and cut from top to bottom along the sides, between the pith (the bitter white stuff just under the peel) and the flesh. (If you’re like me, you’re likely to take a bit of the flesh off, too, but no worries.)

Orange and Fennel Salad-6

Once the orange is peeled, trim off as much of any remaining pith as you can.

Orange and Fennel Salad-7

Then slice the orange horizontally into thin, rounds.

Orange and Fennel Salad-8

Third, compose the salad: Arrange the fennel and orange slices decoratively on a serving plate (or, even better, on individual plates if you have the time). Season with salt and, if you like, freshly ground pepper. Garnish with the black olives if using and drizzle everything very generously with the olive oil. And for an elegant final touch, if you like, top with bits of fennel frond.

Orange and Fennel Salad

Notes on Orange and Fennel Salad

This is one of those simple dishes that relies entirely on the goodness of its ingredients. You should look for a best quality, fruity extra-virgin olive oil, the kind that is dark green in color. And since Orange and Fennel Salad is a Sicilian dish, the oil would ideally be from Sicily. Here in the States, I’d recommend Frantoia brand olive oil, one of my favorites for any dish, Sicilian or not. It’s not cheap, but then no good olive oil is.

The fennel should be young and therefore not too large, if you can find it. Smaller fennel bulbs are more tender, while the larger, older bulbs tend to get a bit fibrous. Older fennel is fine for cooked dishes like finocchi gratinati (Fennel Gratin) or a Fennel Sfornato, but for salads like this one, look for the young kind. If all you can find are the larger bulbs, however, no worries: you can make do by removing their tough outer layer, as mentioned above, and slicing them just as thin as you can manage. As for the oranges, good old navels will do just fine, but feel free to choose the types that appeals to you (Satsumas are in season at the moment and would do very nicely indeed, I think) or even other citrus fruits like a pomelo or grapefruit.

I like to compose my Orange and Fennel Salad, but for a homier tossed version, cut the fennel into strips (removing the base that keeps the layers together) and the oranges into sections and toss them with the oil, salt and pepper as you would a typical Italian salad. There’s no need for vinegar in this salad—even if most recipes I’ve seen in English call for it—since the juice of the oranges will mix with the oil to make a dressing. But I have seen Italian recipes that call for some additional orange or lemon juice. Garnishing with black olives is an optional but lovely touch, as are the fennel fronds. Some recipes call for bits of walnut, which would be particularly nice this time of year.

Insalata di arance e finocchi (Orange and Fennel Salad)

Total Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Insalata di arance e finocchi (Orange and Fennel Salad)

Ingredients

  • 3-4 fennel bulbs, preferably not too large
  • 4 or 5 oranges
  • Best quality, extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few black olives for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prep the fennel: Trim the fennel bulbs top and bottom. If you're working with a larger, older fennel, particularly one that is spottled like this one, remove the outer layer. Now cut the bulb into quarters, then slice each quarter very thinly from top to bottom, making sure that each slice has a bit of the base, which will hold the slice together.
  2. Prep the oranges: Trim them top and bottom, then take a paring knife and cut from top to bottom along the sides, between the pith (the bitter white stuff just under the peel) and the flesh. Once the orange is peeled, trim off as much of any remaining pith as you can, then slice the orange horizontally into thin, rounds.
  3. Compose the salad: Arrange the fennel and orange slices decoratively on a serving plate (or, even better, on individual plates if you have the time). Season with salt and, if you like, freshly ground pepper. Garnish with the black olives if using and drizzle everything very generously with the olive oil. And for an elegant final touch, if you like, top with bits of fennel frond.
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Comments

  1. Frank,

    It’s just getting to orange season here in Australia and this is a fave of mine. My local olive grower (Adelaide had a blessed mediterranean climate) air dries some of his kalamata olives. They are intensely flavoured and great in this salad. It’s often my whole lunch! But great to accompany fish as well (as mentioned by Ciao Chow Linda).

    Your posts are so full of detail I feel I will have to start calling you Frankapedia!

    A presto,
    MLT

  2. Mannaggia this brings back memories! When I was in grade 1 Papà used to make me this salad for lunch, complete with the olives. All of the Anglo kids in the lunchroom thought it was totally weird, and laughed at it, but who’s laughing now! In Orsara di Puglia we call this salad ‘ ‘nsalada Portuall’, Portugal salad. I don’t know why but I’ll have to find out. Buon Anno, Cristina

    1. Author

      School kids can be so dumb. I do hope you look into the origins of the name—I have a passion for food history. Knowing a bit of the history of a dish, for me at least, makes it that much more meaningful. I’d even say it makes the dish taste better! 😉

      1. Yes it does make the food taste better! I will ask Papà and if he doesn’t know, Peppe Zullo will. I’ll keep you posted. A presto, Cristina

  3. I like how it looks on the plate. At first glance it looks easy to make so I will have to try it out

  4. What a beautiful salad. I’ve had something similar, made with blood oranges, and loved it. I’m especially interested in the olive garnish! I think it would nicely complement the orange.

  5. Thanks Frank, for reminding me how I love this salad. I typically serve this (or a variation of it) on Christmas eve, since it’s a nice counterpoint to all the seafood.

  6. Lovely photos!
    I like fennel salad and like orange salad: I’ve never had the two together, though. I must try when fennel is ready to pick at my winter CSA.

  7. aspetterò le arance siciliane più succose e poi proverò a farla, grazie per questa idea Frank, buon weekend !

  8. I love this salad! Now is such a good time for it because the fennel bulbs are smaller. By mid-winter they are huge. What I love about it is the brightness it adds to a winter table. The addition of the olives adds a grand taste-touch.

  9. Thank you, Frank! We would have this salad on Christmas Eve dinner but the fennel and olives were in a side dish. Very good! I’ a first born American from parents born near Naples and Foggia. Thank you for your recipes!

  10. Bella!
    I remember seeing this salad in an Italian cooking magazine, but made with thin slivers of onion instead of fennel.

  11. What a beautiful salad!! I love the colors and your photos capture the juiciness of the orange slices perfectly. I made a salad using your basic ingredients only added quinoa to it. It was really good!! I love dishes that are pleasing to the eye as well as the palate. Great recipe.

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